We all know what BS stands for. MS means “more of the same”, and PhD means “piled higher and deeper.” (A joke that used to circulate around college campuses).
A post at Uncommon Descent, titled “On the Impossibility of Abiogenesis” purports to prove that natural abiogenesis is impossible. I shall detail why I see it as piled higher and deeper with nonsense. The post is by niwrad, and I shall be quoting parts of that post and then commenting on them.
Modern science takes for granted that the naturalistic origin of life, called “abiogenesis” or “chemical evolution” or “pre-biotic evolution” is extremely improbable but not impossible. “Life” here means a single self-reproducing and self-sustaining biological cell.
That’s the very beginning of the post. And it is already wrong. No, science does not take that for granted. Many individual scientists take it for granted, but one should be careful to distinguish between science (as an institution) and the opinions and beliefs of individual scientists.
Science claims that life can arise from inorganic matter through natural processes.
No, science as an institution does not make such a claim. For that matter, most individual scientists don’t make that claim. Most will say that the question of abiogenesis is unsolved and not likely to be solved soon.
Principle 01: Nothing comes from nothing or “ex nihilo nihil”.
WTF? Is this about the origins of life, or is it about the origins of the universe. Can you at least try to remember which nonsense argument you are using.
Principle 02: “Of causality”, if an effect E entirely comes from a cause C any thing x belonging or referenced to E has a causative counterpart in C.
Back here in the real world, everything affects everything. Nothing entirely comes from a single cause. There might be dominant causes, but never single isolated causes. Biological systems exist in this real world of complex interrelated causes. I’m inclined to doubt that there would be any biological creature in a world of isolated causes and simplistic causality.
Definition 01: “Symbol”, a thing referencing something else. Examples: (1) a circle drawn on a piece of paper may symbolize the sun; (2) the chemical symbol CGU (the molecular sequence cytosine / guanine / uracil) references arginine amino acid in the genomic language; (3) the word “horse” symbolizes the “Equus ferus caballus”.
Sigh! There are no such things as symbols. We can say that X symbolizes Y to agent Z. But we cannot say that X symbolizes Y. Symbolic representation is a matter of the intentions of an agent, and is not a purely physical matter. For sure, we often talk of symbols without mentioning the agent. But there is always an underlying implicit agreement of the agent or agents to whom the symbol represents something.
Definition 02: “Symbolic processing” is process implying choices of symbols and operations on them. The basic rules of symbolic processing are contingent and arbitrary and as such are not constrained by natural laws.
This should already refute niwrad’s argument. If symbolic processing is contingent and arbitrary, and not constrained by natural laws, then it exists on in the mind of an agent who uses that kind of description. Whether or not abiogenesis is possible should be independent of what agents happen to be thinking.
Definition 05: Turing Machine (TM), abstract formalism composed of a finite state machine (FSM) (containing a table of instructions) + devices able to read / write symbols of an alphabet on one or more tapes (memories).
Fair enough. But let’s remember that Turing machines do not actually exist in the real world, and could not exist. They are theoretical models for compution. They are not physical devices.
A Turing Machine is the archetype of computation based on instructions.
No, that’s wrong. A TM is a theoretical model, not an archetype. Let’s remember that computation existed long before the TM was defined. If there can be said to be an archetype for computation, we we find that in the practices of humans doing computation, whether with an abacus or with pencil and paper or with some similar means.
Definition 06: “Physical computer”, a physical implementation of an abstract formalism of computation. It can be mechanical, electronic, chemical… It is an arrangement of atoms (hardware) that works out a computation.
We need to understand that a computer is something that is seen by cognitive agents as working out a computation. What the computer does is entirely physical, typically involving electrical and other forms of activity. There are no symbols in the computer, other than on the manufacturer’s label. We, as agents, see the computer as doing computation. But it is computation only by virtue of how we choose to interpret the physical activity of the computer.
Principle 03: Formalism > Physicality (F > P) , formalism overarches physicality, has existence in reality and determines its physical implementations.
This is surely a high level of nonsense. Before abiogenesis occurred (whether naturally or otherwise), there was only physicality. The formalism comes from agents.
A consequence is that implementation has limits directly related to and implied by formalism.
And here we see the author using that high level of nonsense as the basis for his bogus argument. But we only have to look at history to see the evident mistake. In particular, there are many instances in science, where the observed behavior of the physical world was not constrained by the formalism. So scientists invented new formalisms, leading to important advances in science.
The key point is that the impossibility of certain formalisms implies the impossibility of the related physical implementations. Abstractness matters. It drives matter.
Weird! Totally weird! If niwrad thinks that, then why is he bothering to present his argument. Maybe he should just assume that he is a figment of his own imagination.
According to modern science the universe can be considered a system that computes events according to the physical laws. According to Gregory Chaitin “the world is a giant computer”, “a scientific theory is a computer program that calculates the observations”.
Once again, “according to modern science” is just wrong. Some individual scientists use those kinds of models. Science, as an institution, does not dictate that we should use particular models. Moreover, Chaitin is a mathematician rather than a physicist. He uses an idealized theoretical model because, as a mathematician, he is interested in such models.
Later in the post, niwrad makes some arguments based on Shannon’s notion of information. Shannon information and Chaitin information are not the same thing. You cannot legitimately start your argument with one, then switch to the other.
I think I have made my point. The argument is full of specious assumptions. Perhaps this form of argumentation is common in religious apologetics. However, if the ID proponents want to persuade us that their’s is a scientific program, and is not just “creationism is a cheap tuxedo”, then they need to avoid this kind of nonsense.