Tuesday, September 15, 2009

WSJ article: Man vs. God

This is a reply I wrote in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal regarding a short essay they published by Richard Dawkins on what evolution means for God. There were two parts to the article but the other one, IMHO, didn't rise to the level of even being wrong. The text of my reply follows.

In the WSJ article where Richard Dawkins argues that evolution “leaves God with nothing to do,” I beg to differ. In this brief reply, I will show why.

Dawkins makes the typical Darwinian mistake and he is very plain about it. He says that life is produced by the laws of physics. Several times he refers to physics as the causal power that has given us life. Granted, it took a little time, but the answers to the story of life are ultimately found in the laws of physics. Or so he says, on several occasions. Dawkins also says in the article, regarding the origin and progression of life, that the answer is: “Darwinian evolution, the nonrandom survival of randomly varying coded information.” He goes on to immediately say that: “We know, as certainly as we know anything in science, that this is the process that has generated life on our own planet.” But can this possibly be true? Let’s see.

The real problem for Darwinian evolution is that it is impossible to get from matter, energy, and the laws of physics to information, and therefore life. Here’s the Cliff Notes version.

Life and information are inextricably linked. This has been known since Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA. Dawkins himself, in his book River Out of Eden, makes the statement that “life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information.” I would argue that life is more than that but we agree that life in a very real and fascinating way is intimately wrapped up with information.

So why can’t physics explain information and therefore life? It’s pretty simple, actually. The reason is because physics cannot explain language. Language, which is the only thing that we know of that encodes, transmits, receives, and decodes information, requires two things: symbols and rules. Symbols are the representation of one thing for another and the rules are mutually agreed upon conventions for the use of those symbols. Without these two things we do not have language, and without language we do not have information. Needless to say, if we don’t have information, we don’t have life. So if physics cannot explain language it cannot explain life.

Here’s why physics cannot explain language. Physics has nothing to say about symbols, or the rules that govern their use. Using English as an example, nothing in physics tells us why “cat” means a certain kind of mammal and “act” means to do something, or something done, or a segment of a play, depending upon the context. There is no part of physics that even pretends to address these issues. In fact, the laws of physics that Dawkins worships are themselves written in the language of mathematics. One might justifiably wonder, by Whom? So it appears to me, a curious layman, that it is actually impossible for the Darwinian enterprise to explain language, therefore information, therefore life. Who would want to believe a theory like that?

So what role for God? Perhaps John the Gospel writer had it right almost 2,000 years ago when he opened his book with: “In the beginning was the Word…” Or, as we would say, Information.