Any collection of molecules in the universe requires significant amounts of information. We also get radio signals from stars that contain a ton of information in the form of spectra and changes over time, so does this mean that stars are also intelligent?
This comment represents a common confusion between what is referred to as Shannon information and functional or semantic information. Semantic/functional information (specified complexity) represents a pattern or arrangement of symbols which corresponds to some external pattern or demonstrates purpose/meaning/agency. And, the arrangement is not associated with the physics and chemistry of the underlying medium which carries it. For instance, an ice crystal maintains a pattern which is the result of the attractive forces between the atoms. In contrast, letters on a scrabble board can carry semantic information since they can be arranged in any order independently of the materials making them up. And, that arrangement only carries semantic information if it corresponds to meaningful sentences. Likewise, the origin of life required a highly improbable ensemble of chemical reactions which operated symphonically to achieve a fully operational cell. Those reactions depended on enzymes which drove and coupled them together properly. And, the enzymes represented arrangements of amino acids with semantic information. Hurbet Yockey has made this point both in terms of the information in proteins/enzymes and the genetic code.
“Attempts to relate the idea of order…with biological organization or specificity must be regarded as a play on words that cannot stand careful scrutiny. Informational macromolecules can code genetic messages and therefore can carry information because the sequence of bases or residues is affected very little, if at all, by [self-organizing] physicochemical factors.”
He also stated:
The paradox is seldom mentioned that enzymes are required to define or generate the reaction network, and the network is required to synthesize the enzymes and their component amino acids. There is no trace in physics or chemistry of the control of chemical reactions by a sequence of any sort or of a code between sequences. Thus, when we make the distinction between the origin of the genetic code and its evolution we find the origin of the genetic code is unknowable (Chapter 11). Hubert P. Yockey. Information Theory, Evolution, and The Origin of Life (p. 93).
Another common misconception is that the early earth likely contained a large collection of self-replicating molecules which natural selection could act upon.
The problem is that life is nothing like the information in a radio signal. Life reproduces itself while radio transmissions do not. Life evolves through natural selection. Radio transmissions do not. Machines like those in the movie Contact do not reproduce. Life does. The two are simply not analogous.
The problem with this claim is that any autocatalytic network of reactions or self-replicating molecules would involve chemical reactions which move toward lower free energy, so the starting high-free-energy molecules would be quickly used up. The percentage of different types of molecules on the early earth drops off exponentially with their free energy. The dropoff is not a perfect exponential since the earth is not in thermal equilibrium, but it is close enough for the sake of the discussion. A common misconception is that energy sources, such as sunlight or heat, could strongly bias molecules toward higher free energy. However, adding raw energy to a system increases its entropy, so complex (e.g. long-chained RNA) high-free-energy molecules would actually tend to break down. More specifically, the production of nucleotides on the early earth was assessed by leading synthetic chemist James Tour, and his analysis suggests that they should have been virtually non-existent.
The other challenge is that even if the earth contained countless RNA or other long-chained molecules, natural selection would only select for the ease to self-replicate. However, chains which folded into stable structures which could act as enzymes or serve other functions in the first cell would seem to be selected against. Would not a tightly folded structure be difficult for any replicator molecule to unfold for the duplication process?
Even if a self-replicating collection of RNAs emerged, the transition between that system and a true cell requires the emergence of an information storage system, translation process, and a fully functional set of proteins encoded in the storage system. Leading origins expert Eugene Koonin calculated probabilities related to the emergence of such as system, and they were less than 1 in 10 to the power of 1000, which is clearly impossible. His solution to this dilemma was to invoke a probabilistic deus-ex-machina. He argued for the existence of a multiverse with countless planets trying countless combinations of sequences. If one were uncomfortable with that approach, the problem becomes insurmountable.
To reiterate from before, the basic challenge is as follows:
- The number of possible collections of atoms is unimaginably large. And, those combinations which would generate an autonomous cell represent a fraction so small that life could never come about by chance.
- No natural processes could help beat the odds since they would drive any system away from the target of the first cell. For, a cell contains far higher free-energy than random collections of simple molecules.
- A cell demonstrates semantic/functional information since it represents a collection of information-rich molecules working together for a common purpose. And, large quantities of semantic information cannot be generated by natural processes.