Evolution designed; not random

Perry Marshall makes the case against randomness in this video. - Origin of Life Video


I don’t think this is a particularly helpful line of investigation. BioLogos supporters and Creationists BOTH believe the Cosmos is NON-RANDOM.

But if the throw of dice is actually NON-RANDOM (because it follows lawful physics based on velocity, spin and so forth) then the whole relevance of “random” and “non-random” is thrown into question.

There is the NON-RANDOMNESS of God’s design…

There is the APPEARANCE of randomness by persons and/or objects following natural causation.

And there is the randomness of behavior by persons and/or objects that do NOT follow natural causation… but may ultimately still be responding to God’s direction.

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Perry Marshall got one of his facts wrong. He said that DNA wasn’t discovered until 1953. The double helix structure of DNA was discovered by Crick and Watson in 1953, but DNA itself was discovered in 1869, and was long considered to be involved in heredity.

Perry Marshall also makes the creationist assumption that evolution and biogenesis are connected. He also makes the assumption that evolutionists believe that random mutation is the only way that DNA can change.

I don’t know if DNA can be considered an actual blueprint or “design” for life in a literal sense. It may turn out to work that way, and is a convenient way to describe it in simple terms, but I have read that DNA or RNA may have become a self replicating chemical reaction that evolved on its own before life itself began. The order we see in DNA may be no more a design than the beautiful shapes we see in snowflakes, which Perry uses as an example of non-design.

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The common ID update to the Argument from Design. He is saying the “DNA code” must be “ideas” because it is a “code”. “All codes that we know the origin of are designed. Therefore DNA was designed. Therefore God exists.”

He says “DNA code is a product of chance”. No. Not chance.

The problem is that not all designs come from an intelligent agent. Natural selection is an algorithm to get design. It is an unintelligent process to get design. So, saying “designed” means a conclusion of an intelligent agent as “designer” is no longer valid. The “designer” can be unintelligent processes. Natural selection is one such process. Chemistry and physics are others.

So he ignores that natural selection is a designer.

He is making a circular argument: show me a code that does not come from a mind. Well, DNA is one. But he excludes DNA from the beginning.

Chemical reactions are not random. When you mix hydrogen and oxygen and add a spark, you do not get random combinations of hydrogen and oxygen. You get H2O

He also talks about information. He says there is no “physical law” that produces information. He is wrong. Ironically, William Dembski talks about the equation that generates information! That’s right, the Discovery Institute’s mathematician tells us the equation to get information: information = -log(base2) (M/N), where M is the number of actualities and N is the number of possibilities. The prime example is a dot or dash in Morse code. 2 possibilities, the operator chooses 1, so we have -log(2) (1/2) = 1 bit of information.

In origin of life research, 3 amino acids were thermally heated to form tripeptides. The possible number of peptides is 27. However, only 6 were formed. That is -log(2)(6/27) = 5.5 bits of information. Chemistry created information.

Natural selection also creates information. Remember, more individuals are born each generation than live to reproduce. N = number born, M = number that reproduced. Since M/N is always going to be a fraction, -log(2) is always going to be positive.

So, the DNA code is a combination of chemistry and natural selection. And yes, natural selection can move from a world of RNA made by chemistry to DNA via natural selection. The paper that walks through this possible process is
AM Poole, DC Jeffares, D Penney, The path from the RNA world. J. Molecular Evolution 46: 1-17, 1998. Describes Darwinian step-by-step for evolution from RNA molecules to cells with directed protein synthesis. All intermediate steps are useful. http://awcmee.massey.ac.nz/people/dpenny/pdf/Poole_et_al_1998.pdf

Marshall needs to add another choice to his list of origins of the DNA code: chemistry and natural selection.


You are right. Natural selection does design, but it designs because it is designed. It does not design by random chance, nor is it designed by random chance.

Natural selection is based on ecology with the suffix based on the Logos, which means it is a rational, designed process, which has little to do with Survival of the Fittest.

Naturalism claims that nature is not rational, but nature is created by a Rational Being and is based on rational laws and processes. Therefore Nature is rational, and more than material.

First, you seem to be arguing atheism vs theism. I am not doing that. I am looking at the claims about natural selection and what it can make. The video claims that DNA and the DNA code have to be directly manufactured by God. Not by chemistry and natural selection, but by directly manufacturing not only DNA, but the translation machinery to take the 4 base “code” in DNA to an amino acid in a protein. So God not only makes the DNA with a specific DNA sequence, but He also has to make the first set of proteins and RNA to convert the DNA to mRNA and then to proteins. This manufacture has to include the specific tRNAs for each amino acid.

That claim is false. Chemistry + natural selection will make DNA and the “code”.

You are now making a different claim: God manufactured natural selection. I am still NOT arguing atheism. In fact, I’m looking at this problem as a theist. Is it necessary for God to manufacture natural selection?

Natural selection is a 2 step process:

  1. Variation
  2. Selection

Natural selection is not chance. Selection is the opposite of chance; it is pure determinism.

Variation is “random” only in one respect: with respect to the needs of the individual or the population. In a climate growing warmer, just as many deer will be born with longer fur as shorter fur. But only the shorter fur is selected. So the claim that natural selection is “design by random chance” is false.

Natural selection arises whenever the following conditions are met (Darwin’s summary is below, and you can see that it is deductive logic)

  1. There is variation among individuals in a population.
  2. The variations are heritable
    3 There are more individuals in the population than the environment can support. This leads to:
    Conclusion 1:. a “struggle for existence”. Another way to put that is a competition for scarce resources
  3. Some individuals will win the competition – due to the variation.
  4. Because of inheritance, the winning variations will be preserved to the next generation.

I see no position here where God has to directly manufacture (or design) natural selection. When you say “rational, designed process”, you imply that God had to manufacture the process. However, it appears to me that Darwinian (the wider set where “natural selection” happens in populations of biological organisms) happens whenever the conditions are met. The process, and design, is an inevitable consequence of the conditions. God does not have to manufacture anything.

A severe problem with saying “God designed natural selection” is the same problem Special Creation has with claiming God directly manufactured the designs: natural selection has made some very sadistic, stupid, and crazy designs. Do you really want to make God responsible for them? Basically, we can legitimately infer characteristics of the designer from the design. Humans do this all the time from designs of our fellow humans. Remember the Pinto car? The gas tank exploded when the car was hit from behind. What did that say about the intelligence of the human designers? Not too bright. How about the humans that designed the rack, thumb screws, and Iron Maiden? Great designs for inflicting pain. Doesn’t that tell us the humans were sadistic? Well, the same inferences can be made about God from the designs in nature, if God is the designer. We infer that God is sadistic, stupid, and suffering from Alzheimer’s. As a scientist, that is OK. But as a Christian, it is unacceptable. Far better for natural selection – an unintelligent process-- to be the designer and leave God out of it, and out of any responsibility. Destroying God as a deity I can worship is too high a price, IMO, for you to win the theism vs atheism argument.

I think, in all honesty, that you have misstated Philosophical Naturalism. PN does indeed state that nature is rational. We can see that everywhere. However, PN believes that the rationalism arises from the physical processes in the universe instead of being imposed by God from the top. It is a bottom-up origin of rationality, not a top-down. You of course, believe that the universe was created by God, and God is rational. Therefore the rationality in the universe reflects the rationality of God.

The difference between you and PN is that you have the underlying claim that rationality can only come from supernatural “Rational Being”. That is your belief. But I do not see anything in science that will give it overwhelming support and, thus, a way for you to defeat atheism.

I suggest a better way to defend theism is not to say God “designed” natural selection. It certainly is not to claim, like the video, that God manufactured directed protein synthesis. Instead, I suggest the better way is the way chosen by 19th century theologians and adopted by Darwin: evolution and natural selection are God’s secondary causes to design biological organisms. Instead of God “designing” natural selection, go to the theological belief that God sustains all natural processes. Just like God sustains gravity on a moment by moment basis, so God sustains natural selection. It will not give you a “win” against atheism, but it does give you a theism you can defend without throwing God under the bus.

As to sustaining the physical processes discovered by science, here are 3 quotes of scientists and/or Christians stating that. The second 2 come from the Fontispiece to Origin of Species.
“A Law of Nature then is the rule and Law, according to which God resolved that certain Motions should always, that is, in all Cases be performed. Every Law does immediately depend upon the Will of God.” Gravesande, Mathematical Elements of Natural Philosophy, I, 2-3, 1726, quoted in CC Gillespie, Genesis and Geology, 1959.

“But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this – we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws” Whewell: Bridgewater Treatise.

“The only distinct meaning of the word ‘natural’ is stated, fixed, or settled; since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent agent to render it so, i.e., to effect it continually or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once.” Butler: Analogy of Revealed Religion.

This is Darwin’s summary of natural selection. Notice how it is a deductive argument. Meet the conditions, and the outcome is logically inevitable.

“If, during the long course of ages and under varying conditions of life, organic beings vary at all in the several parts of their organization, and I think this cannot be disputed; if there be, owing to the high geometric powers of increase of each species, at some age, season, or year, a severe struggle for life, and this certainly cannot be disputed; then, considering the infinite complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and to their conditions of existence, causing an infinite diversity in structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, I think it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had occurred useful to each beings welfare, in the same way as so many variations have occurred useful to man. But if variations useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterized will have the best chance of being preserved in the struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance they will will tend to produce offspring similarly characterized. This principle of preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity, Natural Selection.” [Origin, p 103 6th ed.]


Thank you for your response.
We think much alike, but I would to give you my point of view.

First of all, I understand Darwin to say that Variation plus Natural Selection equals Evolution.
Variation is very different from Natural Selection, because variation is based primarily on genes. Also because Variation is truly random, so that real change can take place. The problem that Darwinism has is that it stops with genes and Variation, neglecting Natural Selection.

You put the right emphasis on Natural Selection, which determines which alleles will survive and flourish. You just do not separate the two processes which is understandable, because people want to combine them into one. ( Your quote from the Origin goes against Darwin’s use of Malthus to formulate his concept of natural selection, while he used selective breeding for Variation.)

When God created the universe ions ago, God created the elements, which also means God created chemistry. Also it is clear to me that God knew that chemistry and physics and the elements would result in life as we know it. I do not presume to think like God, or speculate how God created everything, But God did because God by definition is the only One Who could do so.

God created life and when God did so God created DNA. That is outside my field of expertise, plus I understand that we still do not know how this happened. All I can say is as far as I can tell, God sis this directly or more likely indirectly through Natural rational processes that God created ex nihilo, just like God created everything else.

Natural Selection as I understand it is based on adaption to the ecological niche of a species. This environmental niche is not static. It changes as climate changes, as different other plants and animals evolve and invade, as humans alter niches, as topography changes, and as diseases evolve. This makes Natural Selection the dynamic engine of evolution, which Darwinism fails to appreciate. We waste time arguing about evolution, instead of putting our resources to use dealing with ecological change.

No, I do not think that you are looking at the problem as an atheist. However atheists have us tricked into opposing God and Nature. God is not God of the gaps. God is the God of the Facts, since it is God and God alone Who can and did create the universe and everything in it from nothing. In particular it is God Who created the earth, and made its environment change from a ball of molten iron and rock to the lovely planet that it is now.

The existence of evil in the world is consistent with the fact that God gives humans freedom, rather than slavery. It seems to me that blaming God for the evil that humans do is like blaming Henry Ford, when automobiles are involves in an accident or a crime. We are responsible for our own sins. Ho God or human should want it differently.

We need to separate our science from our theodicy. However if you are interested in my take on this subject, you can find it on Academia.edu in my paper, God and Freedom.

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