Can Anybody Actually Win The Evolution 2.0 Prize?
Science, God, and
Happy Chemical Accidents
There’s a million codes out there. HTML, bar codes, zip codes, Java, English and Chinese.
A million codes. 999,999 are designed by humans.
There’s one code we don’t know the origin of – and that’s DNA. We don’t know of any codes that are not designed. This implies design in DNA.
So far, nobody has solved the design problem in biology. Not David Hume, not Charles Darwin, not Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett or anybody else.
That’s an unsolved science mystery. So I and a group of Private Equity Investors have formed a company, Natural Code LLC, to offer a $10 million dollar technology prize for Origin Of Information.
Mitchell Hackerman posted a GREAT question about the Evolution 2.0 Prize:
“So you wrote the book Evolution 2.0 and want to know of a code that wasn’t developed by Intelligence?
Well, there’s no way to prove either way; while we may not have codes we know of that haven’t been developed by intelligent life, that doesn’t mean DNA wasn’t formed via some biologic accident.
We can only say that since code is always developed via intelligence, it’s only reasonable to consider human DNA and/or or code was formulated by intelligence.
In the end, there is no way to prove either way for certain, so of course, no one can win your prize money. Nor could you win prize money to prove DNA didn’t spontaneously develop. You still don’t have enough information to conclude it can’t or hasn’t developed spontaneously.”
Mitchell, thank you for being so forthright. You could be correct. For all we know, life might have been a spontaneous biologic accident. That is exactly what Richard Dawkins says in his book The Selfish Gene:
“In once sense, it is a bigger gap” and that the origin of life may have been an “extremely improbable event” (p. 135).
There’s only one problem with that approach:
It’s not science.
What is science?
SCIENCE: 1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
If you cannot test it, reproduce it, falsify it, observe it, validate it from first principles, model it, simulate it on a computer or validate it mathematically, then it’s not science.
If life is something that happened literally accidentally, perhaps only once in the history of the entire universe… then in order to accept that theory, we have to abandon the scientific method. Because none of our experience confirms that accidental events can create information, or cells, or anything similar.
If we’re sticking with hard science, no current theory of life’s origin qualifies.
One of my friends is a prominent scientist who simply refuses to talk about Origin of Life, because he’s honest enough to admit that we know next to nothing about where life came from.
So if we’re going to be consistent and insist that we only teach science in science classrooms, then not only should discussions of God be banned, but all the other theories of life’s origin should be banned too.
The creationist believes in God with a capital G.
The atheist believes in Chance with a capital C.
I fail to see the difference. (Except that creationists generally acknowledge their belief is based on faith, and atheists usually don’t.)
In formal scientific literature, the most truthful statement I’ve ever found is from Hubert Yockey, in his book Information Theory, Evolution and the Origin of Life (Cambridge University Press 2005). On page 176 he says:
“I have no doubt that if the historic process leading to the origin of life were knowable, it would be a process of physics and chemistry. Thus the process of the origin of life is possible but unknowable.”
Page 181: “The fact that there are many things unavailable to human knowledge and reasoning, even in mathematics, does not mean that there must be an Intelligent Designer.”
From a scientific perspective, Yockey’s answer is perfectly valid. I salute him for his candor. But it leaves the elephant stomping around in the room. It assumes our absence of knowledge is a brick wall.
But what if this is solvable – scientifically?
It might be solvable. So I am willing and eager to stick to the normal rules of science – methodological naturalism – and not abdicate to a “God Of Gaps explanation” every time we hit a wall in our understanding.
This is VERY important. Why?
Because no working scientist gets to say “God did it, that explains it” then take a 3-martini lunch. Scientists have to earn their paychecks. We must respect their jobs and their profession.
MANY religious people pit theology against science. The way many Christians, creationists and Intelligent Design advocates frame the issue, they’re practically giving scientists the finger.
It took me years to see how big this problem is. At first, I couldn’t see it at all. But I now see it very clearly. This is not OK.
That’s why it’s vital to search for an Origin Of Life model that is properly scientific. That is the motivation behind this prize.
Creating and funding this prize has been a very complex and expensive undertaking. Forming a corporation, hiring lawyers, conforming to securities laws, pitching investors, etc. etc. etc. Only a person who has formed an entity and legally taken on equity investors, dealt with federal regulations etc. can fully appreciate this.
Some of my friends think this is brilliant. Others think I’m a lunatic.
I did not create and fund this prize to “give scientists the finger.” I founded this prize so that we can put Origin Of Life on proper scientific footing.
Why? Because there may well be a principle of self-organization in nature, or consciousness, or some unknown law of physics, that explains information.
Origin of the Genetic Code – aka Origin of Information – is one of the most valuable and fundamental questions in the entire history of science. If this is discovered, it will be one of the ten most important discoveries of the 21st century. It may be one of the greatest science discoveries of all time.
I believe there’s a 10% chance of solving this in my lifetime. My prize judge George Church of Harvard believes it will be solved within 5 years. Opinions on this span the entire range.
Of course we can choose to give the current (non-empirical, non-testable, non-scientific) Origin Of Life theories a free diplomatic bag of immunity. If so, why don’t we just ignore science entirely… and make up whatever we want to believe?
People of all stripes are free to do that. Irreligious people are welcome to believe life was a “happy chemical accident,” as long as they acknowledge that’s not science.
But they can’t have their cake and eat it too. They can’t claim to “wear the robe of science” as though it somehow supports their skepticism. And they cannot ban God from the debate, reel off a story about warm ponds and lucky lightning strikes, and claim to be fair and honest about science.
By the way, I know many deeply religious people who are also extremely uncomfortable with “God of the Gaps” arguments. They also only accept naturalistic models as real science. The BioLogos foundation and American Scientific Affiliation are good examples.
Meanwhile, if you want to dismiss “design” in biology, you must solve information first. Until then, the inference to design is still on the table.
Arthur C. Clarke said, ”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
And I say, “Any sufficiently improbable event is indistinguishable from miracles.”
Therefore I see no empirical advantage that any of the current explanations have, vs. invoking God. Both are faith based.
The only proper scientific approach is to hypothesize that there is an undiscovered principle that explains life and information.
This is why I am so serious about this prize. Origin Of Information may be solvable. If it is, the discovery will meet the criteria I’ve outlined in the Evolution 2.0 Prize.
If someone can solve this, not only will they have solved the design problem in biology, they will likely have discovered the first true AI and made one of the greatest discoveries of the last 500 years.
May the best man or woman win.