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From Barren Planet to Civilization — Four Simple Steps

Granville Sewell

In the video “Why Evolution is Different,” above, I make the simple point that to not believe in intelligent design, you have to believe that the four fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone (the gravitational, electromagnetic, and strong and weak nuclear forces) could have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics into encyclopedias and science texts and computers and airplanes and Apple iPhones. I show that this belief runs contrary to the more general statements of the second law of thermodynamics, even if the Earth is an open system.

Whether or not it has anything to do with the second law, I can’t imagine anything in all of science that is more clear and more obvious than that unintelligent forces alone cannot produce such things as Apple iPhones. Yet materialists are not impressed. They believe they can explain how unintelligent forces alone could produce computers and airplanes. In the video, I outline the four steps in the materialists’ explanation of how advanced civilizations can spontaneously arise on barren planets, without design:

  1. Three or four billion years ago a collection of atoms formed by pure chance that was able to duplicate itself.
  2. These complex collections of atoms were able to preserve their complex structures and pass them on to their descendants, generation after generation.
  3. Over a long period of time, the accumulation of duplication errors resulted in more and more elaborate collections of atoms.
  4. Eventually something called “intelligence” allowed some of these collections of atoms to design buildings and computers and airplanes, and write encyclopedias and science texts.

The first step is the origin of life: even most materialists will admit that this is a very difficult problem which has not yet been solved by science. Regarding the fourth step, we may feel that we “understand” how humans design and build computers and airplanes, because we see it happen and perhaps even do such things ourselves. But seeing something happen and understanding how it happens are two very different things, and again I think even most materialists will agree that science cannot yet explain human consciousness or intelligence in terms of unintelligent forces alone.

Darwinists claim that the third step is well understood by science, that natural selection has organized these duplication errors into higher animals, and intelligent humans. The second part of my video disputes this claim, and argues that what we see in the fossil record — large gaps where major new features appear — actually looks more like the way human technology, such as software or automobiles, “evolves,” through testing and improvements.

When I point out, as I do in the second part of the video, the striking similarities between the evolution of life and the evolution of human technology such as the automobile, some people have responded by saying that of course cars cannot evolve like animals, because they cannot reproduce, so there are no “variations” for natural selection to work with. Actually the fact that natural selection cannot act on cars is irrelevant to the main point of this comparison, which is simply that similarities between “species” (of cars or animals) do not prove the absence of design.

However, even though it is irrelevant to my main point, let’s look at the argument that evolution is easier to explain if there is reproduction, because that brings us to the second step of the materialists’ explanation. That the third step seems even superficially plausible (until we look at it in more detail) depends completely on the second step, the fact that living things are able to reproduce, that “these complex collections of atoms are able to preserve their complex structures and pass them on to their descendants, generation after generation.”

Reproduction is the most fundamental characteristic of life. We see it happen everywhere, so we may feel there is no mystery to reproduction. But again, seeing something happen and explaining how it happens naturally are two very different things. Is it really true that if cars were able to give birth to other cars — that is, if they were able to reproduce themselves almost perfectly (the copies even retaining the ability to reproduce themselves in turn), with occasional minor errors — that would make the evolution of cars easier to explain without design than if individual cars experienced slight changes or improvements directly, through rust or crashes or other natural causes?

We are so used to seeing animals make nearly perfect copies of themselves that we dismiss this as just another “natural” process. However, if we actually saw cars that contained car-building factories inside with the ability to construct new cars — not just normal new cars, but new cars containing car-building factories — maybe we would realize what an astonishing process reproduction really is, and we might conclude that this would actually make automobile evolution even more amazing and even more difficult to explain without design.

Mathematicians are trained to value simplicity. When we have a clear, simple, proof of a theorem, and a long, complicated counterargument, involving controversial and unproven assertions, we accept the clear, simple, proof, and we know there must be errors in the counterargument even before we find them. The argument here for intelligent design could not be simpler or clearer: unintelligent forces of physics alone cannot rearrange atoms into computers and airplanes and Apple iPhones. And the counterargument consists of four steps, each of which — to put it very generously — is full of dubious and unproven assertions. Q.E.D.