Thursday, December 13, 2012


Like young birds teetering tentatively on the edge of their nest, wanting to fly, but afraid to leave, Darwinian materialists seem to be finding the old nest increasingly unsuitable for the accumulating knowledge of the 21st century. Yet they're reluctant to make a clean break with the philosophical nest they've called home for much of their lives.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel created a stir in the philosophical world when he took wing a couple of months ago with the release of his book Mind and Cosmos: Why Darwinian Materialism Is Almost Certainly Wrong. Now comes word that cosmologist Paul Davies, one of the most prolific writers of science books in the last twenty years, has placed himself on the rim of the nest and is flexing his wings.

An article in Science Daily discusses a recent paper Davies has written with a coworker named Sara Walker that sounds almost as if it could have been written by an Intelligent Design advocate. The article starts this way:
One of the great mysteries of life is how it began. What physical process transformed a nonliving mix of chemicals into something as complex as a living cell?
Davies and Walker have come up with what they think is a partial answer:
In a nutshell, the authors shift attention from the "hardware" -- the chemical basis of life -- to the "software" -- its information content. To use a computer analogy, chemistry explains the material substance of the machine, but it won't function without a program and data. Davies and Walker suggest that the crucial distinction between non-life and life is the way that living organisms manage the information flowing through the system.

"When we describe biological processes we typically use informational narratives -- cells send out signals, developmental programs are run, coded instructions are read, genomic data are transmitted between generations and so forth," Walker said. "So identifying life's origin in the way information is processed and managed can open up new avenues for research."

"We propose that the transition from non-life to life is unique and definable," added Davies. "We suggest that life may be characterized by its distinctive and active use of information, thus providing a road map to identify rigorous criteria for the emergence of life. This is in sharp contrast to a century of thought in which the transition to life has been cast as a problem of chemistry, with the goal of identifying a plausible reaction pathway from chemical mixtures to a living entity."
In other words it's information that defines life and information processing that must be explained, but as Intelligent Design theorists have been saying now for a decade and a half, information is uniquely a characteristic of minds. If life is all about information what is the genesis of that information? Living cells are like libraries of information. They're like computer software, but the library's books and software codes are products of intelligence. You don't get Windows XP by random chance and natural forces.

The article continues:
"To a physicist or chemist life seems like 'magic matter,'" Davies explained. "It behaves in extraordinary ways that are unmatched in any other complex physical or chemical system. Such lifelike properties include autonomy, adaptability and goal-oriented behavior -- the ability to harness chemical reactions to enact a pre-programmed agenda, rather than being a slave to those reactions."
"Magic matter?" One might think that Davies has taken wing, but he's not ready to leave the materialist nest just yet. He still thinks that there's some purely physicalist explanation for the amazing amount and functionality of information in the cell, at least he says he does. Perhaps, he's at the stage of the fledgling which knows that leaving the nest is inevitable, but it clings to the security the nest represents as long as possible. After all, there's a tremendous professional price to pay when one becomes a full-fledged heretic.

Book Signing Reminder

Just a reminder that I'll be doing a book signing/meet and greet on behalf of my book In the Absence of God at Hearts and Minds bookstore in Dallastown, PA tomorrow evening (December 14th) beginning at 7:00pm.

My friend Byron Borger, the proprietor of Hearts and Minds, has graciously offered to host this event at his bookshop, and I hope many of you can make it, especially if you live close-by. It'll be an evening of good conversation, light refreshments, an opportunity to make new acquaintances, and an opportunity to browse the shelves of perhaps the most charming bookstore you'll ever visit.

It's also a great place to do some Christmas shopping, and In the Absence of God may make the perfect gift for someone who prefers novels to non-fiction and who's interested in questions about God. For more information on the book click on the link at the upper right of this page.

The address of Hearts and Minds is 234 East Main Street, Dallastown, York County, PA. I hope to see you there.