God Exists: An Argument from Information

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Chris Du-Pond

If God exists, and he wants us to know so, he must have left breadcrumbs for us to find him. I believe information is such a breadcrumb. Without it, knowledge, communication, and scientific discovery would be impossible.

In this essay I argue that information in the universe—via the law of conservation of information—poses a fundamental challenge to Darwinian evolution. A second implication of the conservation of information theorem is that logically prior to the existence of the universe there had to be information—in the form of laws of physics and cosmological constants.[1] Therefore, logically prior to the existence of universe, an intelligent mind existed. This is strong evidence for the existence of an immaterial, timeless, space-less, powerful, and intelligent Creator of the universe: God.

What is Information?

Can matter serve as the fundamental substance of human reality? William Dembski seems to answer this in the negative. He argues that “information is the primary stuff of the universe,”[2] and that “intelligence creates information, which in turn can manifest itself materially” making thus intelligence the preeminent first cause.[3]  But before we can discern what he means exactly, let us establish a clear definition of information.

Simply put, information is “something that we know now which we did not know before.”[4] For information to be exchanged there needs to be a code understandable to the receiver. If I receive the message “la vie est belle” but I do not know French then I haven’t gained any knowledge. I need a semantic system to decode the information to gain knowledge. This is known as semantic information; it needs to be meaningful. In the case of human languages, the person acts as the decoder; in the case of computer languages a compiler or interpreter has the ability to turn the computer language into a specific low-level set of instructions (binary) that a computer’s micro-processor can understand and execute. There is often also context; additional information that may alter the meaning of a message. Information can also be simple or complex. This determines the specificity of the information: I could fill up one page or 1000 pages with the words “Mama loves Papa” and gained no additional knowledge. This is simple information. In contrast, we could have a compact message with additional complexity that conveys more information and thus knowledge: “I am craving some Oaxacan tamales for lunch today.” The type of information we use in everyday language exhibits what is called specified complexity. A prime example of specified complexity—according to Oxford mathematician John Lennox—can be found in a ten-word sentence.[5] There are 3,628,800 (10! factorial) ways in which we can arrange the words of the sentence but only one that makes syntactical sense. This simple rule, for any given language, will eliminate more ungrammatical sentences—if we include all possible sentences in English—than there are atoms in the universe.[6] In the simplest of terms, information is the “ruling out of possibilities.”[7] As we exclude more possibilities, the amount of information increases and thus it can be measured: information increases with the reduction of probabilities.[8] In other words, information can be expressed as a search. We will develop this idea further but for now suffice to say that information, in the form of exclusion or elimination of possibilities, is essentially a search.

Traditionally, biological information (including specified information) has been defined in materialistic terms as emerging primarily from chemistry through the development of information-bearing molecules—through a mindless-random process.[9] If this is true, then the primary source of information is mindless mater. Can this be so? I think not.

Can Matter Rule out Possibilities?

If mind/intelligence is not the primary source of biological information, then matter/nature must be. In materialistic terms, and specifically in neo-Darwinism, natural selection and random mutation can generate information, not by the addition of novel data but by eliminating “maladaptive disadvantages.”[10] Can this process create a complex human brain that then becomes the “natural” source of information? According to Dembski, “to show that a purely material nature is not up to the task of creating all the information that we find in it, requires assessing what is within and outside the reach of purely material powers of nature.”[11] We effectively need to measure how much information this process can generate. In principle this is doable because nature behaves in measurable and predictable patterns. Once we understand the “norm” in nature’s information-generating capabilities, we can understand what is plausibly outside its reach. Only then it is reasonable to consider teleological agency. In the case of nature, there is a self-contained information-rich mechanism—DNA—that accounts (at least in part), for example, for the growth of a seed into a mature tree. Likewise, a computer chess program contains the necessary algorithms to play chess with other computers or humans but the source was an external teleological agent. Some chess engines like Fritz and Rybka can “learn” through an ever-growing database of chess games to supplement its artificial intelligence and become “smarter” through the influx of additional information. This brings us to the question: How did DNA information get into the seed in the first place? Was it embedded externally by and intelligent agent or did it emerge via natural processes?

This question brought to its ultimate consequence stops with the universe because there was a point when no life existed in it—and thus no DNA. In the past scientists believed that the universe had no beginning. There was no need for an external explanation of it, but with the discovery of the galaxy’s red-shift and the microwave background radiation, it is now generally agreed by cosmologists that the universe is not eternal in the past but had a beginning.[12] This cosmic beginning is the effective initiation of all matter, energy, space, and time into existence. For us the main question remains: can this cosmic beginning unpack all the information we see in the universe and planet earth (including DNA) as a serendipitous accident? It is astonishing that what we see today—once the universe expanded and developed into its current form—is a very specific signature in the form of a pattern of exclusion of possibilities or, as we have argued, specified information.

As the young universe expanded, particles excluded random patterns of interaction to combine in specific ways that are intelligible and observable from the information they leave behind. This is how we know that elemental particles combined to form atoms, atoms formed molecules of hydrogen and helium that collapsed into stars; the cosmic furnaces that provide the raw materials for planets and galaxies to form, culminating with a life-permitting universe. Atomic forces, gravity, matter density, the expansion rate of the universe, and over 100 different parameters[13] participate in the development of this particular universe to the exclusion of other possible universes: a search. In the beginning of the universe, we have, not only a quite literal explosion of time, space, and matter, but a very impressive transfer of information that scientists can track and study. These patterns of information make scientific discovery possible. Nature is an open book that we try to understand, it contains information that we seek to decipher, and the language it was written in is mathematics.

Nothing in raw matter is intelligible apart from the patterns and behavior it leaves behind. Information enables us to distinguish a water molecule from benzene or to infer that they even exist; matter alone is irrelevant without the information it communicates. Information in nature is relevant only because it is measurable. We also know trough the laws of conservation of information that “information is not created from scratch but redistributed from existing sources.”[14] The concept of conservation of information is paramount for our case, so let us unpack it.

Law of Conservation of Information[15]

We established earlier that information—defined as the exclusion of possibilities—can be expressed in the form of a search. “Conservation of Information starts with the insight that searches ordinarily achieve success not by accident or good fortune but by incorporating into themselves target-specific information that raises the probability of successfully locating the target.”[16] If I say “it is cold outside or it is not cold outside” I have communicated no information at all because I excluded no possibilities. But if I say: “it is minus twenty degrees outside and it is snowing,” I have reduced the possibilities greatly and thus transferred information. Let us use a simplified example from Dembski[17] to further illustrate this concept: suppose we have a fair lottery with a jackpot of $100. Each ticket costs $1.00. One ticket has a 1/100 (or 1%) of chance of winning. We could increase the probability of wining at a cost (we can buy more tickets). The cost increases proportionally to the increase in probability that I “find” the winning ticket. Here I am effectively narrowing down the search for the winning ticket by incurring a cost. If I buy 10 tickets I have spent $10 but increase my chances of winning to 10% as well. You can see the pattern here: “[t]hat higher probability of success is purchased at the price of information incorporated into the search”[18] and thus, investing more in this lottery gained us nothing. With this background in place, we can now formulate the law of conservation of information (CoI) in specific terms:

[R]aising the probability of success of a search does nothing to make attaining the target easier, and may in fact make it more difficult, once the informational costs involved in raising the probability of success are taken into account. Search is costly, and the cost must be paid in terms of information.

Searches achieve success not by creating information but by taking advantage of existing information. The information that leads to successful search admits no bargains, only apparent bargains that must be paid in full elsewhere.[19]

The CoI theorems have been shown to be true when applied to genetic algorithms by the Evolutionary Informatics Lab.[20] These—including the famous WEASEL algorithm from Richard Dawkins—don’t generate novel information but just rehash it or re-introduce the information trough the programmer. In other words, there is no “free lunch.”

CoI in Biology and Astrophysics

We asked earlier if naturalistic process have the resources to generate novel information. The theory of neo-Darwinian evolution is supposed to explain the emergence of the complex from the simple, but CoI states that there was no such a state of simplicity and thus, either information—as the source for complexity—had to be there from the start at the big-bang or introduced at a later point. In either case, evolution would be teleological unlike what neo-Darwinism postulates—a mindless-unguided process. Furthermore, the universe in which we exist had a very particular kind of beginning that suggests an injection of information from the start. This is because over two dozen parameters had to fall within a mind-boggling narrow range of values to support life[21] and none of these parameters require—by necessity—the values that they took. Objectors to the fine-tuning of universe tend to appeal to the multiverse (chance), but in our context of information as the expression of a search, the multiverse—unlike our universe—is incoherent because it is not searchable. With both neo-Darwinism and the multiverse anything can be explained which is no explanation at all precisely because they lack specificity and accessibility; a veritable “naturalism-of-the-gaps.” We are expected to join in the argumentum ad futuris fallacy and “accept this because future evidence will support it”[22] when we have in fact today a feasible inference to the best explanation. If the beginning of life and the beginning of the universe required an influx of specified information, then where did this information come from since material blind forces can only re-distribute it based on CoI? The answer is simple: Intelligence. Furthermore, we know today that the only primary source of information is an intelligent mind.

Metaphysical Implications of CoI

It is paramount at this point to address the common objection that to suggest intelligence as the source of life (DNA) and the universe is a “god-of-the-gaps” fallacy. What has been argued herein is not that we have no clue how life (and the universe) came to be, therefore “God did it.” What has been argued is as follows: we have positive evidence that information is conserved unless an intelligent mind injects new information into a searchable system. We also have positive evidence of the existence of vast quantities of information in the initial conditions of the universe, the subsequent development of the universe, and in DNA code. We are also justified to believe that there existed no material intelligent beings at the beginning of the universe and therefore we can confidently conclude that a powerful, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, intelligent, and personal[23] being was responsible for the injection of information we observe today; what theists call: God.

It is noteworthy that this argument has not gained momentum in the mainstream scientific community, not because it is weak or unscientific but due to an “a-priori” commitment to materialism. For many scientists, materialism is the only game in town to avoid “a divine foot at the door.”[24] But then again, this is a philosophical position and not a scientific one. The rejection tells us absolutely nothing about the existence of such Divine foot and is a mere tautology coming from a materialist.[25]

Others like Robert Bolger suggest that the problem of intelligent design theory is that “it tries to very covertly sneak a theological argument into the domain of the sciences.”[26] But this is nothing but a glaring genetic fallacy: intelligent design is chiefly advanced by theists, so it must be a Trojan horse to bring religion into the classroom.[27] Never mind interacting with the arguments fairly in a scholarly forum.

A third category of objections states that intelligent design has no peer-reviewed documentation because it is unscientific. But even if true (which is not)[28] this is a mere distraction to avoid scientific engagement.

Final Thoughts

I believe this argument has wider implications. Other forms of information are at home with Dembski’s ideas on CoI. The laws of logic transcend space, time, and humans. But if logical laws only exist in the mind, there must be a mind that transcends our universe. Coincidentally the laws of logic are needed for a mind to process information, making logic and information complementary entities. It sure looks like God has left his fingerprints in the fabric of the universe—in the form of information—along with the tools to find them: a cosmic breadcrumb.

There is a third type of information that we have mentioned: laws of physics. These are not necessary laws (for any universe), but they do exist in ours and need to be considered. In the context of the beginning of the universe it is clear that certain laws—such as gravity—have to be in place logically prior to the beginning. This also points to an intelligent mind as cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin seems to ponder:

The picture of quantum tunneling from nothing raises another intriguing question. The tunneling process is governed by the same fundamental laws that describe the subsequent evolution of the universe. It follows that the laws should be “there” even prior to the universe itself. Does this mean that the laws are not mere descriptions of reality and can have an independent existence of their own? In the absence of space, time, and matter, what tablets could they be written upon? The laws are expressed in the form of mathematical equations. If the medium of mathematics is the mind, does this mean that mind should predate the universe?[29]

With the evidence set forth, I believe it is safe to answer Vilenkin’s question in the affirmative.

[1] I credit Alexander Vilenkin with the idea that, “the laws [of physics] are not mere descriptions of reality.” Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (New York, NY: Hill & Wang, 2006), 205.

[2] William Dembski, Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2014), Kindle Edition, Location 90.

[3] Ibid., location 97.

[4] John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford, OX: Lion Hudson Plc, 2009), 148-9.

[5] Ibid., location 156.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Dembski, Being as Communion, location 610.

[8] For details on the measurability of information see Ibid., location 984.

[9] Christian de Duve, Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995), 10.

[10] Dembski, Being as Communion, location 633.

[11] Ibid., location 1228. Emphasis added.

[12] It is worth mentioning at this point that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem proves that any universe that has, in average, been in a state expansion cannot exist to past infinity but must reach a boundary at some point in the finite past. Notably, the theorem also applies to the multiverse (if such thing even exists). This has brought one of its co-authors to eloquently spell out the implications: “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape; they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” Vilenkin, Many Worlds, 176.

[13] To review a comprehensive list of characteristics of the universe please see Hugh Ross, “Part 1: Fine-Tuning for Life in the Universe,” reasons.org, http://www.reasons.org/files/compendium/compendium_part1.pdf, (accessed December 5, 2014).

[14] This definition was coined by Peter Medawar, The Limits of Science (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 78– 82.

[15] For a detailed treatment of the ‘No Free Lunch’ and the ‘Conservation of Information’ laws see chapter 18 in Dembski, Being as Communion, location 3711.

[16] Ibid., location 3453-3458. Emphasis added.

[17] Ibid., location 3742.

[18] Ibid., location 3453.

[19] Ibid., location 3864. Emphasis in original.

[20] These algorithms (AVIDA, Terra, WEASEL) seek to emulate the behavior of neo-Darwinian evolution.

[21] For a complete list of these parameters see Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), Kindle Edition, Location 2508.

[22] Kenneth R Samples, “God-of-the-Gaps or Best Explanation?” reasons.org, http://www.reasons.org/articles/god-of-the-gaps-or-best-explanation, (accessed December 10th 2014).

[23] In the absence of prior determining conditions, a free agent has to produce the effect which implies agent causation and thus a personal act of free will. For a detailed rendering of agent causation in this context see William Lane Craig, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Rejoinder,” reasonablefait.org, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/must-the-beginning-of-the-universe-have-a-personal-cause-a-rejoinder (accessed December 10th 2013).

[24] Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons (review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997.

[25] Lennox, God’s Undertaker, 36.

[26] Robert Bolger, Kneeling at the Altar of Science: The Mistaken path of Contemporary Religious Scientism (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 77.

[27] This is in fact the main thesis of the book by philosopher Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross, Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[28] For a list of peer-reviewed articles please visit the Discovery Institute,”Peer-Reviewed Articles Supporting Intelligent Design,” discovery.org,  http://www.discovery.org/id/peer-review/ (accessed December 10th 2014).

[29] Vilenkin, Many Worlds, 205.

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