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A Challenge to both Evolution and Intelligent Design

Posted: Tue Dec 09, 2008 9:08 pm
by Nikolai
Both these theories purport to explain the development of life over time, and apply themselves to all forms of life - from the virus to the higher mammals.

Yet both are beset by a central weakness: they are unable to define what life is.

I would argue that Life is not something that can be empirically observed, rather Life is a purely mental construct whose application upon phenomena varies considerably from person to person, over time and over place.

One thing that can certainly be said is that the dividing line between living and non-living entities is arbitrary. The corollary of this is that the concept of a species adapted to its environment is highly problematic as it is impossible to distinguish between the living organism and its non-living context. They can be viewed as inseparable and entirely of a piece.

In Darwin's day, the notion of vitalism was common currency so this problem didn't arise. But if you discount vitalism, as many materialist biologists do, then how do we define life life? Or what isn't life? The explanatory potential of evolution and Intelligent Design is fatally compromised until this is done.


Posted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 9:40 am
by Jack
Hi Nikolai,

My personal belief is that by way of a false assumption we divide evolution from intelligent design as if they were divisible. The actual reality from my view point is that Intelligent Design is the impetus for Evolution / Intelligent Design encompasses Evolution.

As far as the question "What is Life?" I more or less agree with the definition given below.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

What Is Life?

Posted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:19 pm
by mickthinks
The explanatory potential of evolution and Intelligent Design is fatally compromised until this [defining life] is done.

I think "fatally compromised" is an exaggeration. For the purposes of Darwinian evolution, life can thought of as the capacity to reproduce or to develop such capacity, or something along those lines. For ID it is even easier - life is that which the Designer has designed to live.

These definitions may not satisfy to resolve questions outside of the fields of evolution or creation science, but I don't see why universal applicability should be a requirement.


Posted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 8:56 pm
by Nikolai

When I was talking about life I meant a living thing as opposed to a non-living thing.

For example, any living organism is composed of materials that, taken alone, are viewed by convention as non-living. The point at which the non-living suddenly becomes the living is therefore entirely arbitrary. It is imposition of a boundary, where in reality there is no such boundary. Either everything 'lives' or nothing 'lives'

If there was some kind of 'vital spirit' then the distinction between living and non-living would be better justified. But there is no such entity known, and so living/non-living becomes a construction arbitrarily applied. A living organism therefore belongs, for the present, in the same epistemological category as a 'good act' or a 'thing of beauty'. In other words, something impossible to define and probably subjective.

Darwinist theory is transformed beyond recognition. There is no life nor death, and the 'organism' can neither be understood as living or dead, but 'evolves' eventually into ashes and dust- themselves neither living nor dead but presumably better adapted to...something that is neither alive or dead.

Best wishes, Nikolai

Posted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:10 pm
by DregsofDilly
It seems that what you're saying is like saying that since the loss of any particular hair does not make a man bald, a man with hair will never become bald. Which obviously isn't true, if my dad is any example.

If I had to suppose a sort of "vital spirit" to explain why a non-living component can create life, I'd have to suggest instead that it is a "pattern" that creates life, namely the pattern of amino acids called DNA.

The question is: where does that "pattern" come from?
There's materialism/Darwinism, which says that it comes about "naturally" through individuals' "adaptations."
There's Creationism, which say that it was "created by God."

And then there's ..uh... I don't know what its called, which says that the "pattern" is a human idea and does not explain anything.
To that I can only shrug.

A second weakness in my explanation is death. A dead cell still has the DNA pattern within it, but is not alive

I imagine my inability to explain this is more due to my ignorance about biology than anything, because I do not know how a cell dies. If there's something I'm overlooking, please point it out.


Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:38 am
by mickthinks
When I was talking about life I meant a living thing as opposed to a non-living thing.
So was I. The defining quality of the former, lacked by the latter, is life.

Either everything 'lives' or nothing 'lives'
I don't know why you say this, Nikolai. It is obviously not true that everything has the capacity to reproduce, and it is also obviously not true that nothing has that capacity.


Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:35 pm
by Morpheus
Possibly everything that we know 'lives' at some level or another. So I think I understand where Nikolai is coming from.

If we break down the material manifestations of life as we know it, we reach the atomic level. Break this down further and we reach the subatomic realms. If it were possible to break down subatomic particles into smaller and smaller particles, eventually we are left with nothing. So life apparently evolves from nothingness. But nothingness may actually be something - namely, energy or vibration. At the subatomic level and beyond, there is no distinction between 'living' and 'non living', everything is energy vibrating at different frequences. The fastest frequency may well be life energy, which doesn't actually disappear at death, but simply slows down and merges with slower vibrations to be recycled (i.e. picks up speed again), eventually to become the life energy of a plant or sentient being. Indeed, energy cannot be destroyed.

'Cor blimey, I've got a headache now!

Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 1:10 pm
by Psychonaut
There is no satisfactory sweeping definition of life, when it boils right down to it we have to be satisfied with altering our definition of life in line with our purpose at any given time.

There are bacteria in my body which are not part of my body, but should they all be removed they would not survive outside, and I would not survive with them outside.

Likewise, as has been noted elsewhere there are elements of the constitution of ecosystems which are essential to any part of that ecosystem continuing to thrive.

Minerals are not conventionally considered alive, but remove them from the soil and soon enough nothing else will be alive either.

With highly social animals such as ants, its hard to say whether an individual or a colony should be taken as the basic unit.

The holistic notion is that this indivisibility has a scope much greater than we might generally consider.

The left hand says the world is my body and I am its brain, the right hand says the world is a body and without it I am nothing; I am nothing.

Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 1:18 pm
by Morpheus
"The left hand says the world is my body and I am its brain, the right hand says the world is a body and without it I am nothing; I am nothing"

Or, Nothing is the new Something.

Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 8:58 pm
by Nikolai
Dear all,

I think we are all agreed that life is impossible to define, yet for Darwinism to work it is crucial that there is a difference between living and non-living.

In nature no difference can be perceived betwen them, it is effectively a line drawn arbitrarily in the sand - then we go onto to say 'this side is life, which is subject to the laws of evolution, and this side is non-life which is not.'

That there is a distinction between life and non-life is wholly unjustified - we accept it out of convention but it does not really exist.

Life, the central premise of Darwinism and Intelligent Design, is nothing more than a kind of fable. It is like goodness, or beauty. it can be applied to phenomena but is not an intrinsic quality of them. That Darwinism is a scientific theory is therefore a myth.

Yours provocatively,


Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 8:59 pm
by Nikolai

DNA is one of the non-living components of 'Life' I was referring to. It is a complex of pyrimidal base sugars - a product of life but not life itself.

I think you are slightly off with your baldness analogy. Why do we call some things life and not others. Is a field living, or a forest, or a snowdrift? By convention we say not, but a slight shift of perspective and we could see that they might be. My point is that anything could conceivably be said to be alive and that there is no objective discriminant between life and non-life.

Darwinism is therefore based on an illusory distinction.


Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 9:11 pm
by Morpheus
I didn't mention anything about baldness or DNA! That was Dregsofdilly.

Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 9:16 pm
by Nikolai

Being able to reproduce is not an adequate definition of life. My gran can't reproduce but she is alive (mostly).

I'm sure you're going to say somethign like: she might not be able to reproduce but others like her can. But in doing that you would be placing her into a taxonomical grouping based on things life: shared ability to reproduce. In other words a circular argument.

Dubious taxonomies aside - name one common denominator between all orgainisms that live?

The obvious answer is DNA, but as I argued above, DNA is just a chemical compound - it is not life itself.

However hard you look you will not find Life. That is because it exists nowhere but as an intangible idea, a concept, like a centaur. And the whole of Darwinism is therefore based on a myth. We have to Believe that life exists, we shall never be able to perceive it with our senses.


Posted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 2:46 am
by Psychonaut
Evolutionary theory need not apply just to life.

That which can reproduce itself in the next moment will exist in the next moment; a monkey is simply a higher-order reproducing pattern than a rock (that is to say, the monkey pattern is sustained by a great deal more variability).

Posted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:46 am
by sumploke
To join the fray...

Science itself is only an effect caused by the question of life. In this sense, evolution isn't the cause of life nor is intelligent design - they are effects caused by the inquiry - they are selections made to explain how we got here. Just because the term 'life' itself has been quantified by science doesn't mean the scientific explanation of life is the correct one. There can be no correct/incorrect, right or wrong explanations to life because all inquiries are always structured by what language allows us to do - and if language itself when pushed is an aporia, a contradiction, then these inquiries are fruitless if one wants the 'Truth' of life.

Thus to claim that evolution, intelligent design is the cause for life is flawed. It is only an effect caused by the question: 'what is life?'