Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crystal Arguments

The following exchange occurred in the comment section of a blog entry posted by Mike Gene. Part of the exchange is reproduced here for the purpose of commentary as it entails a flawed argument frequently employed against intelligent design. There are variations of crystal arguments which are arguments by analogy seeking to explain how biological complexity could be generated from laws of nature. The biological complexity referred to is that of an initial genome. My comments appear in green while those of the other commenter are in red. The follow-up commentary is in blue.

Bradford: The ateleologist would proceed to argue that the dice were fixed as a consequence of some natural force of nature. Perhaps the ends were eroded or the faces were indented in six places on each side by some mechanism.

Most scientists understand that humans act with purpose, and that dice are human manufactured devices that should be "fair", but are often tampered with to gain advantage over adversaries. Think Bradford! It is your knowledge of humans and dice that allows you to consider cheating to account for skewed distributions.

A more appropriate example might be water forming ice. Perhaps it is Jack Frost who carefully weaves beautiful and intricate crystals on the windowpane, or perhaps there is some underlying property of water. Making that scientific determination requires forming and testing valid hypotheses.

Indeed it is my knowledge of humans and dice that allows for a conclusion of cheating when skewed distributions are observed. It is important to note that accurate conclusions are pegged to correct assessments of contingencies inherent to the situation at hand. But would one infer that an intelligent designer was a necessary part of a hypothesis involved in the explanation of snowflake patterns or the beauty of frozen ice on a windowpane? No. But why not?

While the patterns themselves can be complex and beautiful they are made possible through a change in one variable- temperature. The temperature leads to an appearance that is a property of water under conditions that can be specified. Causality is determined. Given the properties of matter (in this case water) and the environmental conditions, snowflakes or ice will form; along with the complex patterns in the snowflakes or ice. Complexity is predictable and linked to the properties of matter and weather conditions. It is our scientific knowledge that allows us to make accurate predictions that complex patterns will arise.

Contrast this with nucleic acids; biochemicals organisms utilize to store information used to code for proteins and RNA and the related functions these encoded end products enable. Like water nucleic acids have chemical properties. Unlike water the chemical properties of nucleic acids do not reveal the conditions of a prebiotic environment that would lead to the unique sequencing patterns enabling the synthesis of functional proteins and RNA. But is that because we simply have not determined what those conditions are or do the chemical properties of nucleci acids and the nature of encoding systems signal that environmental conditions alone are insufficient to account for biologically functional nucleic acids?

It is the latter condition and it is our knowledge of chemistry, biology and encoding symbolism that allows for a correct inference of intelligent design. Like the example of dice and humans, it is our knowledge, not our ignorance, that makes possible an accurate conclusion. While determinism marks the physical process that results in crystalline formation a functional sequencing of nucleotides is contingent on an existing biological condition that confers selective value to the sequencing. That condition being an availability of amino acids corresponding to codons and of proteins to the nucleic acids containing the codons. This is irreducible complexity on a most basic biological level.

The biological utility of codons lies in their symbolic nature. The symbolism is as real as the amino acids composing proteins synthesized in accordance with the identity and order of the codons. It's contingency all the way and a contingency whose logic lies in the existence of a larger replicating biological system- the cell. Crystals provide evidence of the molecular properties of their constituent substance. Functional nucleic acids provide evidence of an already existing cell replete with the proteins they code for. That's a problem for those seeking to convey the idea that life was generated like crystals.

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