216 In the Beginning: Information

Before he retired Werner Gitt was a professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology and the Head of the Department of Information Technology.  He wrote In the Beginning Was Information:  A Scientist Explains the Incredible Design in Nature (Green Forest, AR:  Master Books, Inc., c. 2005) to show how information “is a fundamental entity on equal footing with matter and energy” (p. 11).  Consider, for example, this:  “Every spider is a versatile genius:  It plans its web like an architect, and then carries out this plan like the proficient weaver it is.  It is also a chemist who can synthesize silk employing a computer controlled manufacturing process, and then use the silk for spinning.  The spider is so proficient that it seems to have completed courses in structural engineering, chemistry, architecture, and information science, but we know that this was not the case.  So who instructed it?  Where did it obtain the specialized knowledge?  Who was its adviser?” (p. 15).    To address such phenomena, to understand such questions, one thing is utterly clear:  information plays a vital (i.e. vitalizing, life-giving) role.  

To build his case, Witt first explains and classifies the laws of nature.  He then addresses the importance of information—a non-material, purely mental dimension of Reality defined by Werner Strombach as an “‘enfolding of order at the level of contemplative cognition’” (p. 51).  There is, Witt insists, “no known natural law through which matter can give rise to information, neither is any physical process or material phenomenon known that can do this” (p. 80).  Self-evidently, information “is an abstract representation of material realities or conceptual relationships” (p. 84), a “coding system” revealing what is.  As rational creatures sustained by the amazing DNA molecules, we daily process an incredible amount of information—some 3 x 1024 bits—“more than a million times the total amount of human knowledge in all the libraries of the world” (p. 89).  

Understanding the extraordinary importance of information leads Witt to repudiate the naturalistic evolutionary paradigm regnant since Darwin.  No scientist knows how life began!  Various theoretical models have been proposed, but as of now they are all purely imaginary.  Such was recently made clear at the seventh “International Conference on the Origins of Life” in Mainz, Germany, where leading scientists from around the world concluded, according to Klaus Dose, that “all evolutionary theses that living systems developed from poly-nucleotides which originated spontaneously, are devoid of any empirical base’” (p. 106).  To Witt:  “The basic flaw of all evolutionary views is in the origin of the information in living beings.  It has never been shown that a coding system and semantic information could originate by itself in a material medium, and the information theorems predict that this will never be possible.  A purely material origin of life is thus precluded” (p. 123).  

The rightful role of information is, however, fully compatible with a biblical worldview!  As St John so presciently proclaimed:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:1-3).  God spoke the world into being, and He has revealed himself through words.  The Bible tells us who God is, why creation functions as it does, what is our nature as human beings, and how we should live and get to heaven.  Talk about important information!  It’s all right here at our fingertips!  Witt’s exposition of some of the basic truths revealed to us in Scripture is the work of a thoughtful layman, not a biblical scholar.  But he makes an eloquent point:  highly intelligent scientists find in the Scripture truths essential for us humans.  

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Responding to the recent spate of the militant atheists’ screeds, John C. Lennox recently wrote God’s Undertaker:  Has Science Buried God? (Oxford:  Lion Hudson plc., c. 2009), a book that originated in lectures delivered at the University of Oxford.  Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and has publicly debated both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (two of the celebrated contemporary atheists).  There is clearly a “war of the worldviews” being waged, and Lennox seeks to clarify why thoughtful Christians “insist that faith and evidence are inseparable.  Indeed, faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence” (p. 16).  Doing so involves, first of all, a proper understanding of science.  Today’s atheists claim to rest their case in science, but it’s important to see that they are fundamentally philosophical naturalists (not scientists) adhering to an alluring worldview (a reductionistic scientism that restricts all truth to empirical science) rather than reputable science. “Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science” (p. 19).   

Indeed, Lennox insists:  “At the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly” (p. 20).  There is a rational dimension to all that is.  Historically, this belief developed within Hebraic monotheism, holding that One God rules the world.  In Him and according to His will all things cohere.  As Werner Jaeger insisted, “‘the Logos in the Hebrew account of creation’” provides “‘a substantialization of an intellectual property or power of God the Creator, who is stationed outside the world and brings the world into existence by his own personal fiat’” (p. 50).   Without this religious or metaphysical conviction  science simply could not exist.  “C.S. Lewis’ succinct formulation of [Alfred North] Whitehead’s view is worth recording:  ‘Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver’” (p. 21).  A “law,” properly defined, presupposes a lawgiver, for it simply describes how things work; a law is not the power (the agent) activating matter. Believing in a supernatural lawgiver has enabled many great scientists to discern “why” things are as they are as well as “how” they function.  Consequently, as Keith Ward says:  “‘To the majority of those who have reflected deeply and written about the origin and nature of the universe, it has seemed that it points beyond itself to a source which is non-physical and of great intelligence and power.  Almost all of the great classical philosophers—certainly Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Locke, Berkeley—saw the origin of the universe as lying in a transcendent reality.’”  However much they differed on details, they all agreed “‘that the universe is not self-explanatory, and that it requires some explanation beyond itself’” (p. 58).  

Atheists who insist their conclusions come from scientific evidence wrongly portray the very nature of scientific investigation, failing to distinguish between mechanism and agency.  To carefully describe a machine says absolutely nothing about who made it.  Thinkers like Dawkins make a category mistake, violating an elementary canon of logic.  Take a Model T Ford engine, for example.  Fully understanding how the engine works cannot tell us anything about Henry Ford.  He’s not found within the machine, and it works quite well without his physical presence.  But if one “decided that his understanding of the principle of how the engine works made it impossible to believe in the existence of a Mr Ford who designed the engine in the first place, this would be patently false—in philosophical terminology he would be committing a category mistake.  Had there never been a Mr Ford to design the mechanisms, none would exist for him to understand” (p. 45).  

Richard Dawkins’ mechanistic atheism stands rooted in his dogmatic denial of design, though he confesses that biological beings certainly “‘look designed, they look overwhelmingly as though they’re designed’” (p. 79).  But, along with Daniel Dennett, he prefers to trust Darwin’s theory rather than his observational skills because Darwin provides “‘scheme for creating Design out of Chaos without the aid of Mind’” (p. 79).  Following Darwin’s prescription in an effort to explain the universe, however, betrays the limits (if not falsity) of naturalistic evolution.  The deeper physicists and astronomers delve into the cosmos the more they find it remarkably well-designed—indeed, fine-tuned to facilitate life on earth.  Lennox cites the evidence proffered by eminent authorities such as Sir Roger Penrose, whose “calculations lead him to the remarkable conclusion that the ‘Creator’s aim’ must have been accurate to 1 part in 10 to the power of 10123 . . . a ‘number which would be impossible to write out in the usual decimal way, because even if you were able to put a zero on every particle in the universe there would not even be enough particles to do the job’” (p. 71).  

Consequently, says Sir John Houghton, a physicist:  “‘The fact that we understand some of the mechanisms of the working of the universe or of living systems does not preclude the existence of a designer, any more than he possession of insight into the processes by which a watch has been put together, however automatic these processes may appear, implies there can be no watchmaker’” (p. 91).  The long derided watch analogy of William Paley has made a sudden comeback!  Reason leads us to conclude that Henry Ford designed Ford motor cars; reason leads us to believe there’s a watchmaker somewhere responsible for the existence of watches.  “So it is with God,” says Lennox.  “At the more abstract level of the explanatory of power of science itself, philosopher Richard Swinburne in his book Is there a God? says:  ‘Note that I am not postulating a “god of the gaps”, a god merely to explain the  things that science has not yet explained.  I am postulating a God to explain why science explains; . . . .  The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause for that order.’  Swinburne is using inference to the best explanation and saying that God is the best explanation for the explanatory power of science” (p. 48).  Discerning design in creation leads, rationally, to a Designing Creator!  

In addition to the nature of the cosmos, the mystery of life suggests a Rational Creator as the Source of all that is.  Having described our finely tuned universe, wherein all seems (from the moment of the Big Bang) minutely orchestrated, Lennox emphasizes the mystery of life, especially on the molecular level.  For all the evidence regarding microevolution, “‘the origin of species—Darwin’s problem—remains unsolved’, thus echoing the verdict of geneticist Richard Goldschmidt:  ‘the facts of microevolution do not suffice for an understanding of macroevolution’” (p. 109).  The fossil record shows little evidence of Darwinian evolution.  Niles Eldridge, a distinguished paleontologist, has studied the rocks for decades, looking for “the kind of slow directional change we all thought ought to be there” but finding “instead that once species appear in the fossil record they tend not to change very much at all.  Species remain imperturbably, implacably resistant to change as a matter of course—often for millions of years’” (p. 115).  

Most puzzling is the origin of life, a truly “formidable challenge to challenge to naturalism” (p. 121).  Despite some scientists’ triumphant claims, no one knows how life on earth began.  As geneticist Michael Denton said:  “Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological systems, such as a crystal or a snowflake, there is a chasm as vast and absolute as it is possible to conceive.’  Even the tiniest bacterial cells, weighing less than a trillionth of a gram, is ‘a veritable microminiaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of 100 thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world’” (p. 122).  For even a single protein to emerge from lifeless matter is mathematically most improbable.  “Yet life as we know it requires hundreds of thousands of proteins, and it has been calculated that the odds against producing these by chance is more than 1040,000 to 1.  Sir Fred Hoyle famously compared these odds against the spontaneous formation of life with the chance of a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and producing a Boeing 747 jet aircraft” (p. 129).  

Added to the mystery of life’s origin is the complexity of the genetic code.  How does one explain the massive amount of information in a strand of DNA?  More importantly, how does one explain the fact that DNA does not “create” life—rather, life seems to spawn DNA.  So why does anything live?  Whence comes the information basic to living beings?   No one makes more sense than St John:  God spoke the Word and all that was made reveals Him.  Basic to all, the most fundamental reality of all, is the Word.  

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I occasionally commend books that I don’t necessarily recommend people read because of the challenging nature of the material.  But that such works exist—and can be profitably read by folks with sufficient background—should be widely know.  This is true of Robert J. Sptizer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God:  Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, c. 2010), in which he sets forth five arguments (two scientific, three metaphysical) designed to persuade the reader that God necessarily exists.  

Scientifically there are, firstly, “indications of creation and Supernatural design in big bang cosmology.”  Arno Penzias, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist, put it plainly:  “‘Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life.  In the absence of an absurdly improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan’” (p. 13).  Spitzer summarizes the evidence, all leading to the conclusion that “a universe without a beginning is impossible” (p. 36).  Secondly, there are “indications of supernatural design in contemporary big bang cosmology” supported by many eminent physicists.  Given the universal constants basic to the material world, it is highly improbable—“exceedingly, exceedingly, exceedingly remote” (p. 65)—that our anthropic universe could have accidentally emerged.  Evidence of this deflated Fred Hoyle’s atheism, for he concluded the facts indicate “‘that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.  The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question’” (p. 73).  

Turning to philosophical arguments, Spitzer insists that the same way of thinking we follow elsewhere applies equally to metaphysics.  Rigorous investigation leads to certain “reasonable and responsible” beliefs, as demonstrable as the fact that you and I exist or the laws of thought.  “Metaphysics and proofs for God’s existence do not require any more belief or force of will than an application of mathematics or logic to the world” (p. 109).  There is, then, a compelling “metaphysical argument for God’s existence.”  Thinkers including Plato, Augustine, and Aquinas have articulated a cogent case for the necessary existence of an “unconditioned reality” basic to all that is.  Secondly, Spitzer proposes a “[Bernard] Lonerganian proof for God’s existence.”  God, defined as the unconditioned Reality, is tacitly known in our minds as we sense that there is an ultimate answer to all our questions that necessarily exists.  Thirdly, there is the Kalam “proof against the infinity of past time” that dovetails with recent insights into the Big Bang.  Though we can imagine an infinite future, there cannot actually be an infinite past!  

Though the bulk of Spitzer’s work focuses on his five proofs for God’s existence, he concludes his study with a brief philosophical discussion (resonate with Platonic and Thomistic insights) of His nature, showing that “Love itself, Goodness itself, and Beauty itself exemplify the characteristics of perfect unity (absolute simplicity) identified with the unconditioned Reality (Being itself) and unrestricted intelligibility (Truth itself)” (p. 245).  Within the “divine mystery” there are five “transcendentals.”   God not only must exist—He is, necessarily, a certain kind of God.  Importantly, these attributes satisfy our deepest hungers.  As early as we can talk we ask “Why is that?”  And we’re never quite satisfied with the answers—ever asking more questions.  There is obviously an “inadequacy of partially intelligible answers, and that true satisfaction will only occur when complete intelligibility has been achieved” (p. 259).  We know, in our dissatisfaction with partial truths, that there an ultimate Truth—what Lonergan terms a horizon that serves “as a backdrop over against which I compare the ideas that I have understood” (p. 263).  We’re also attuned to the Reality of Perfect Love.  We not only realize our need for love—we know it should be perfect!  We admittedly never experience such love, but we both desire and know it must be.  

So too we desire perfect justice and goodness.  Children early declare “That’s not fair!”  They just know things should be just.  “Not only do human beings have a sense of good and evil, a capacity for moral reflection, a profoundly negative felt awareness of cooperation with evil (guilt), and a profoundly positive felt awareness of cooperation with goodness(nobility); they also have a ‘sense’ of what perfect, unconditioned justice/goodness would be like” (p. 268).  Conscience—so rightly celebrated by Immanuel Kant and John Henry Newman—truly seems to be the voice of God within the human heart.  Newman memorably declared:  “‘Conscience implies a relation between the soul and something exterior, and that moreover, superior to itself; a relation to an excellence which it does not possess, and to a tribunal over which it has no power.  And since the more closely this inward monitor is respected and followed, the clearer, the more exalted, and the more varied its dictates become, and the standard of excellence is ever outstripping, while it guides, our obedience, a moral conviction is thus at length obtained of the unapproachable nature as well as the supreme authority of that, whatever it is, which is the object of the mind’s contemplation’” (p. 273).  

Fourthly, we have a deep “desire for perfect beauty” that must be rooted in a Transcendent Beautiful Reality.  We rejoice in the beauty of the mountains or music, but in time we long for something still more beautiful.  One Rembrandt on the wall must be followed by another.  One Mozart symphony never quite suffices.  As Plato discerned in the Symposium, we move “‘from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty’” which must ultimately be “‘the true beauty, the divine beauty, I mean, pure and dear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colors and vanities of human life, thither looking and holding converse with the true beauty simple and divine’” (p. 279).  Most beautiful of all, we want a “perfect home.”  Strangely enough, we feel ourselves strangers on earth, lost in the cosmos, hungry for a final resting place.  By nature, as C.S. Lewis so eloquently argued, we long for heaven.  Now and then we experience an ecstasy akin to the bliss of eternal life.

Consequently, Spitzer ends his treatise as he began, with the words of Sir Arthur Eddington:  “‘We all know that there are regions of the human spirit untrammeled by the world of physics.  In the mystic sense of the creation around us, in the expression of art, in a yearning towards God, the soul grows upward and finds fulfillment of something implanted in its nature.  The sanction for this development is within us, a striving born with our consciousness or an Inner Light proceeding from a greater power than ours.  Science can scarcely question this sanction, for the pursuit of science springs from a striving which the mind is impelled to follow, a questioning that will not be suppressed.  Whether in the intellectual pursuits of science or in the mystical pursuits of the spirit, the light beckons ahead and the purpose surging in our nature responds’” (p. 1; p. 286).