Theory of Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins

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Theory of Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins » Intelligent Design » Irreducible complexity » Life’s irreducible structure: autopoiesis

Life’s irreducible structure: autopoiesis

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1 Life’s irreducible structure: autopoiesis on Sun Jul 26, 2015 11:48 pm


Life’s irreducible structure: autopoiesis 1

he commonly cited case for intelligent design appeals to: (a) the irreducible complexity of (b) some aspects of life. But complex arguments invite complex refutations (valid or otherwise), and the claim that only some aspects of life are irreducibly complex implies that others are not, and so the average person remains unconvinced. Here I use another principle—autopoiesis (self-making)—to show that all aspects of life lie beyond the reach of naturalistic explanations. Autopoiesis provides a compelling case for intelligent design in three stages: (i) autopoiesis is universal in all living things, which makes it a pre-requisite for life, not an end product of natural selection; (ii) the inversely-causal, information-driven, structured hierarchy of autopoiesis is not reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry; and (iii) there is an unbridgeable abyss between the dirty, mass-action chemistry of the natural environmental and the perfectly-pure, single-molecule precision of biochemistry. Naturalistic objections to these propositions are considered in Part II of this article.

Comprehensively regulated, information-driven metabolic functions

It is still not enough to have spectacular molecular machinery—the various machines must be linked up into metabolic pathways and cycles that work towards an overall purpose. What purpose? This question is potentially far deeper than science can take us, but science certainly can ascertain that the immediate practical purpose of the amazing array of life structures is the survival of the individual and perpetuation of its species.23 Although we are still unravelling the way cells work, a good idea of the multiplicity of metabolic pathways and cycles can be found in the BioCyc collection. The majority of organisms so far examined, from microbes to humans, have between 1,000 and 10,000 different metabolic pathways.Nothing ever happens on its own in a cell—something else always causes it, links with it or benefits or is affected by it. And all of these links are multi-step processes.

All of these links are also ‘choreographed’ by information—a phenomenon that never occurs in the natural environment. At the bottom of the information hierarchy is the storage molecule—DNA. The double-helix of DNA is ‘just right’ for genetic information storage, and this ‘just right’ structure is beautifully matched by the elegance and efficiency of the code in which the cell’s information is written there. But it is not enough even to have an elegant ‘just right’ information storage system—it must also contain information. And not just biologically relevant information, but brilliantly inventive strategies and tactics to guide living things through the extraordinary challenges they face in their seemingly miraculous achievements of metabolism and reproduction. Yet even ingenious strategies and tactics are not enough. Choreography requires an intricate and harmonious regulation of every aspect of life to make sure that the right things happen at the right time, and in the right sequence, otherwise chaos and death soon follow.

Recent discoveries show that biochemical molecules are constantly moving, and much of their amazing achievements are the result of choreographing all this constant and complex movement to accomplish things that static molecules could never achieve. Yet there is no spacious ‘dance floor’ on which to choreograph the intense and lightning-fast (up to a million events per second for a single reaction) activity of metabolism. A cell is more like a crowded dressing room than a dance floor, and in a show with a cast of millions!

Inversely causal meta-information

The Law of Cause and Effect is one of the most fundamental in all of science. Every scientific experiment is based upon the assumption that the end result of the experiment will be caused by something that happens during the experiment. If the experimenter is clever enough, then he/she might be able to identify that cause and describe how it produced that particular result or effect.

Causality always happens in a very specific order—the cause always comes before the effect. That is, event A must always precede event B if A is to be considered as a possible cause of B. If we happened to observe that A occurred after B, then this would rule out A as a possible cause of B.

In living systems however, we see the universal occurrence of inverse causality. That is, an event A is the cause of event B, but A exists or occurs after B. It is easier to understand the biological situation if we refer to examples from human affairs. In economics, for example, it occurs when behaviour now, such as an investment decision, is influenced by some future event, such as an anticipated profit or loss. In psychology, a condition that exists now, such as anxiety or paranoia, may be caused by some anticipated future event, such as harm to one’s person. In the field of occupational health and safety, workplace and environmental hazards can exert direct toxic effects upon workers (normal causality), but the anticipation or fear of potential future harm can also have an independently toxic effect (inverse causality).

Darwinian philosopher of science Michael Ruse recently noted that inverse causality is a universal feature of life,28 and his example was that stegosaur plates begin forming in the embryo but only have a function in the adult—supposedly for temperature control. However most biologists avoid admitting such things because it suggests that life might have purpose (a future goal), and this is strictly forbidden to materialists.

The most important example of inverse causality in living organisms is, of course, autopoiesis. We still do not fully understand it, but we do understand the most important aspects. Fundamentally, it is meta-information—it is information about information. It is the information that you need to have in order to keep the information you want to have to stay alive, and to ensure the survival of your descendants and the perpetuation of your species.

This last statement is the crux of this whole paper, so to illustrate its validity lets go back to the vacuum cleaner analogy. Let’s imagine that one lineage of vacuum cleaners managed to reach the robotic, energy-independent stage, but lacked autopoiesis, while a second makes it all the way to autopoiesis. What is the difference between these vacuum cleaners? Both will function very well for a time. But as the Second Law of Thermodynamics begins to take its toll, components will begin to wear out, vibrations will loosen connections, dust will gather and short circuit the electronics, blockages in the suction passage will reduce cleaning efficiency, wheel axles will go rusty and make movement difficult, and so on. The former will eventually die and leave no descendants. The latter will repair itself, keep its components running smoothly and reproduce itself to ensure the perpetuation of its species.

In summary, autopoiesis is the information—and associated abilities—that you need to have (repair, maintenance and differential reproduction) in order to keep the information that you want to have (e.g. vacuum cleaner functionality) alive and in good condition to ensure both your survival and that of your descendants.

But what happens if the environment changes and endangers the often-delicate metabolic cycles that real organisms depend upon? Differential reproduction is the solution. Evolutionists from Darwin to Dawkins have taken this amazing ability for granted, but it cannot be overlooked. There are elaborate systems in place—for example, the diploid to haploid transition in meiosis, the often extraordinary embellishments and rituals of sexual encounters, the huge number of permutations and combinations provided for in recombination mechanisms—to provide offspring with variations from their parents that might prove of survival value. To complement these potentially dangerous deviations from the tried-and-true there are also firm conservation measures in place to protect the essential processes of life (e.g. the ability to read the DNA code and to translate it into metabolic action). None of this should ever be taken for granted.

In summary, autopoiesis is the information—and associated abilities—that you need to have (repair, maintenance and differential reproduction) in order to keep the information that you want to have (e.g. vacuum cleaner functionality) alive and in good condition to ensure both your survival and that of your descendants. In a parallel way, my humanity is what I personally value, so my autopoietic capability is the repair, maintenance and differential reproductive capacity that I have to maintain my humanity and to share it with my descendants. The egg and sperm that produced me knew nothing of this, but the information was encoded there and only reached fruition six decades later as I sit here writing this—the inverse causality of autopoiesis.


part 2:

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