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The Creation Explanation

Creation Explanation Life -- Miracle, Not Accident

Mechanism In Biology A Materialistic or Theistic Concept?

Scientific discovery in the nineteenth century, leading to continually expanding knowledge of the natural world, caused many to believe that the demonstrated ability of the human mind to uncover, understand, and sometimes even predict the structures and processes of material things, living and inanimate, was proof that all things including living organisms were essentially mechanisms entirely explainable in terms of physics and chemistry. The reasoning behind this widely-held conclusion stems from the belief that man-made machines are entirely explainable in terms of physics and chemistry. After all, the argument goes, any scientist or engineer understands the physical laws which are operative in his instruments or machines. Are these not, therefore, entirely explained by physical law? In like fashion, biochemists are able to understand the chemical and physical laws operative at many levels of complexity in living organisms, even down to the function of individual molecules. Is not this proof that life can be reduced to pure chemistry and physics?

The error of this "reductionist" view of biology was made clear in the writings of the eminent physical chemist and philosopher, Michael Polanyi.54 He observed that a machine or mechanism designed by man provides, by its designed structure and form, those boundary conditions which determine or control what will be accomplished in the machine through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry. Thus, although physical law can explain the operation of a mechanism designed by man, what it cannot explain is the origin of the design and the translation of the original design blueprint into the original copy of the machine. This is because the design originated in the creative imagination of man, which is not reducible to physics and chemistry.

Moreover, at least the original copy of the machine was produced by craftsmen who could read and understand the design information in the blueprints. Similarly, while the chemistry and physics of many cell functions are understood, the design and origin of the living cell are not explained by physics and chemistry. As Polanyi said, "Physics is dumb without the gift of boundary conditions, forming its frame; and this frame is not determined by the laws of physics."

A specific example is afforded by the design information carried in DNA molecules. Although the chemical structure and chemical bonds and other interactions involved in the functioning of the code-bearing DNA molecules are rather well understood, chemistry cannot explain the origin of content of the design information carried by the DNA. A parallel is provided by a book or newspaper. The physics and chemistry of paper, ink, and printing presses are well understood. But chemistry and physics do not to the slightest degree explain the origin or content of the news and editorials carried by the printed symbols on the newspaper. Neither do they explain how printed symbols can convey such information from one mind to another.

Polanyi's conclusion was that "life transcends physics and chemistry." We would extend his conclusion. Just as the structural organization of man-made machines was the product of the mind of intelligent man and cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry, so the machine-like structural organization of living organisms must also have its source in a purposeful intelligence. Contrary to the common view of nineteenth and twentieth century materialists, mechanism in biology points not to purposeless evolution, but to intelligent, purposeful design--to divine special creation.



54. Polanyi, Michael, ibid., 21 Aug. 1967, pp. 54-66; _________, Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (University of Chicago Press, 1958), pp. 328-335.

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