Professor Richard Dawkins is one of the world’s most out-spoken atheist.
He acknowledges that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution played an important role in consolidating his atheistic worldview.
He is profiled in Wikipedia at :
The following are abstracts from the Wikipedia article.
“In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion—a fixed false belief. As of January 2010 the English-language version has sold more than two million copies and had been translated into 31 languages”.
“Dawkins states: “the main residual reason why I was religious was from being so impressed with the complexity of life and feeling that it had to have a designer, and I think it was when I realised that Darwinism was a far superior explanation that pulled the rug out from under the argument of design. And that left me with nothing.””
An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: “I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.” I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.
The Theory of Evolution allows Dawkins to be a satisfied atheist because it purports to give an explanation for the “appearance of design” in complex bodies of living organisms without the need for a designer.
According to evolutionary theory the bodies of living organisms were fashioned by the process of natural selection. For example the streamline shape of fish resulted from the advantage that this form gave to organisms which lived in water . In evolutionary theory, over vast periods of time , whatever the initial form of organisms which lived in water, a more streamline shape will be “selected” in each generation as slight differences in the hereditary (genetic) composition of the organisms (produced by random undirected events) provide the raw material upon which natural selection acts to select the best adapted.
But if the above process were could it occur without a designer ?
To answer that question we will have to look at the nature of living organisms and information theory.
Living Organisms, Evolutionary Theory and Information
What is a living organism ?
Professor Freeman Dyson gives a definition at :
“For the purposes of this discussion, life is defined as a material system that can acquire, store, process, and use information to organize its activities. In this broad view, the essence of life is information, but information is not synonymous with life. To be alive, a system must not only hold information but process and use it. It is the active use of information, and not the passive storage, that constitutes life”.
What is information ?
Researcher and author David Abel of the “Origin of Life Foundation ” states at:
Semantic (meaningful) information has two subsets: Descriptive and Prescriptive. Prescriptive Information (PI) instructs or directly produces nontrivial formal function (Abel, 2009a). Merely describing a computer chip does not prescribe or produce that chip. Thus mere description needs to be dichotomized from prescription. Computationally halting cybernetic programs and linguistic instructions are examples of Prescriptive Information. “Prescriptive Information (PI) either tells us what choices to make, or it is a recordation of wise choices already made.” (Abel, 2009a)
Where does information come from ?
The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy is cautious about the concept of information in biological systems but comments on the prescriptive information in living organisms at :
At this point, however, it is important to note that there are two ways in which richer notions of information can be introduced. One possibility is to argue that genes and other biological structures literally carry semantic information, and their informational character explains the distinctive role of these structures in biological processes. Another possibility is to treat the appeal to meaning and information as an analogical one. Here the idea is that language, coding systems, computer programs and other paradigmatically information-exploiting systems can serve as useful models for biological systems. If we take this second route, our task then is to identify the similarities between the cases of semantic phenomena used as models and the biological systems we seek to understand, and to show how those similarities are informative. If we think of genes or cells as literally carrying semantic information, our problem changes. Paradigm cases of structures with semantic information — pictures, sentences, programs — are built by the thought and action of intelligent agents. So we need to show how genes and cells — neither intelligent systems themselves nor the products of intelligence — can carry semantic information, and how the information they carry explains their biological role. We need some kind of reductive explanation of semantic information (arguably, we need this to understand cognition, too). One place we might look for such an analysis is naturalistic philosophy of mind.
David Abel states that the laws of physics and chemistry have never been demonstrated to produce prescriptive information.
He refers to the production of prescriptive information as “the Cybernetic Cut”. The DNA molecule is an example of prescriptive information. It uses symbols (purine and pyrimidine bases) within a syntax to code for amino acids from which proteins are made. Formalism refers to the use of symbols (like the alphabet) within a syntax ( e.g the English language) to produce meaning. This is not a physical process but is placed in physical media eg on paper or computer screens The symbols are meaningless without the language and cannot or have never been demonstrated on their own to produce language and meaning. That is to say , it has never been demonstrated that the physical symbols of the alphabet can produce the syntax of a language :
Thus a Configurable Switch (CS) Bridge traverses The Cybernetic Cut. The essence of The Cybernetic Cut principle is that traffic flow is unidirectional across this CS Bridge from formalism to physicality. Falsifying The Cybernetic Cut would require nothing more than demonstrating a bidirectional flow across the CS Bridge. Thus far, no one has ever observed physicality instructing, programming, or instituting non trivial formal organization and function.
The following studies show that Darwin’s observation of change in the beaks of the Finches on the Galapagos islands was in fact the result of regulation of the expression of the prescriptive information in the birds not due to change in genetic make-up. The finches are nonetheless still used in textbooks as a classic example of evolution.
Bmp4 and morphological variation of beaks in Darwin’s finches.
Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Darwin’s finches are a classic example of species diversification by natural selection. Their impressive variation in beak morphology is associated with the exploitation of a variety of ecological niches, but its developmental basis is unknown. We performed a comparative analysis of expression patterns of various growth factors in species comprising the genus Geospiza. We found that expression of Bmp4 in the mesenchyme of the upper beaks strongly correlated with deep and broad beak morphology. When misexpressed in chicken embryos, Bmp4 caused morphological transformations paralleling the beak morphology of the large ground finch G. magnirostris.
News and Commentary
Heredity (2005) 94, 141–142. doi:10.1038/sj.hdy.6800618 Publised online 10 November 2004
Evodevo: Darwin’s finch beaks, Bmp4, and the developmental origins of novelty
Correspondence: B Sinervo, e-mail: email@example.com
“These findings elucidate the developmental origin of an adaptive radiation that serves as the textbook example of evolution. More importantly, it brings us one step closer to understanding how morphological diversity can be achieved with a minimum amount of informational change. The fact that the same growth factor, when applied to mesenchyme versus ectoderm, can achieve completely opposite morphologies provides us with a partial answer to the paradox of the genome. How can the complex morphology of a human require only the coordinated expression of 30 000 genes? The combination of heterochronic and heterotopic changes in the regulation of single genes provides an infinite set of topological shifts to evolve a limitless set of morphological diversity”.
Researchers have found that the finches’ beaks vary with rainfall and revert to their original shapes when the weather conditions change.
In summary :
1. Evolutionary Theory claims to provide a mechanism for the design of the bodies of living organisms without the need for a designer . Richard Dawkins claims that the theory makes it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist.
2. The essential characteristic of living organisms is that they possess and manipulate prescriptive information.
3. Prescriptive information has never been shown to arise other than by the input of an intellect.
4, A classic textbook example of evolution – the alteration in the beaks of the finches on the Galapagos islands – is due to regulation of prescriptive information.
5. The most likely cause of living organisms – in fact the only cause that we presently know can account for both living organisms and their change in form – is an intellect,
6. Atheists like D Richard Dawkins still have a some way to go to be intellectually satisfied.