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Meet Intelligent Design’s Naturalistic Cousin: Assembly Theory

Photo: Lee Cronin, by Alfienoakes, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

From “A New Idea for How to Assemble Life,” by science writer Philip Ball at Quanta Magazine (emphasis added):

Assembly theory started when [Lee] Cronin asked why, given the astronomical number of ways to combine different atoms, nature makes some molecules and not others. It’s one thing to say that an object is possible according to the laws of physics; it’s another to say there’s an actual pathway for making it from its component parts. “Assembly theory was developed to capture my intuition that complex molecules can’t just emerge into existence because the combinatorial space is too vast,” Cronin said.

See if you can spot the notion highly similar to Bill Dembski’s “specification” in this section:

…for a complex object to be scientifically interesting, there has to be a lot of it. Very complex things can arise from random assembly processes — for example, you can make protein-like molecules by linking any old amino acids into chains. In general, though, these random molecules won’t do anything of interest, such as behaving like an enzyme. And the chances of getting two identical molecules in this way are vanishingly small. Functional enzymes, however, are made reliably again and again in biology, because they are assembled not at random but from genetic instructions that are inherited across generations. So while finding a single, highly complex molecule doesn’t tell you anything about how it was made, finding many identical complex molecules is improbable unless some orchestrated process — perhaps life — is at work.

We should be crystal clear — calling Assembly Theory the “naturalistic cousin” of ID is OUR take on the work of Cronin’s group. Dr. Cronin himself (pictured above), and his collaborators, would disavow any connection to intelligent design reasoning, and they should not be held responsible for our interpretation. 

But, when one notices conceptual similarities and parallels, it would be remiss for us not to highlight them. Assembly Theory is fascinating and potentially fruitful, and so, we’re over here cheering on the effort.