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FAQ: Must the first CSI come from an unintelligent source? [a subissue of "Who Designed the Designer']

An infrequently asked question, but a interesting variant of the FAQ "Who Designed the Designer," has been asked of us which goes approximately as follows: Intelligent design proponents claim that CSI is always the result of intelligent action. If we presume that an intelligent designer itself must contain more CSI than its designs, doesn't this imply that the CSI inherent in the first designer must have come from a non-intelligent source? (i.e. Either the very first original intelligent designer had a natural origin, or itself was uncaused.) Doesn't this at least imply an exception to the rule that CSI is always the result of intelligent action?" We would like to try to address it here:


1) Firstly, recall that we don't have to account for the origin of the designer to infer design. One point made in the "Who Designed the Designer" FAQ is: "Now let's say you are walking in a field and find a TV set. You don't necessarily know anything about who or what designed that TV set, but you can tell it is designed because, at some fundamental level, it exhibits specified complexity. But scientifically speaking, that's all you can infer--that it was designed! Now let's say that you work for SETI and detect a signal coming from outer space that looks like it was sent by an intelligent extraterrestrial source. You don't have to know where the extraterrestrial intelligent agent (EIA) which produced the signal came from to know that the signal was designed." The scientific theory of intelligent design need not account for the origin of the designer for it to be able to infer design.

2) Secondly, this objection does make a deeper point which should be addressed. Namely, it attempts to hit at a basic premise in the scientific theory of design itself by showing that it is required that there is a special case where the methods of ID theory don't work (i.e. this objection tries to show that there was a time when CSI came about apart from design).

There are a couple ways of addressing this point. First, events like the origin of the first cause are so far in the past that they are not accessible to science. They can only really discuss them using philosophy and religion. Here, essentially, this question is about the "first cause"--and physicists have discussed that when we are dealing with things very early in the universe, or predating the universe, like the origin of the first cause, the normal laws of physics and reality can break down.

For example, take a hard-core materialist reductionist who believes there was never any intelligent design, and that all matter came from nothing. Such a person must believe that the universe (or the chain of universes from which ours came) just "popped into existence." Such a postulate violates the First Law of Thermodynamics. According to NASA, the First Law of Thermodynamics states that: "Within some problem domain, the amount of energy remains constant and energy is neither created nor destroyed. Energy can be converted from one form to another (potential energy can be converted to kinetic energy) but the total energy within the domain remains fixed." If we take our "problem domain" to be everything which exists, then there must have been an instance where our universe (or its chain of universes) began to exist and its matter / energy came into existence despite the fact that its matter / energy did not previously exist. This requires a violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics. The hard-core materialist reductionist, when exploring the first cause, requires a violation of one of the most fundamental laws of nature. The famous physicist Robert Jastrow tends to agree: But the creation of matter out of nothing would violate a cherished concept in science—the principle of the conservation of matter and energy—which states that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Matter can be converted into energy, and vice versa, but the total amount of all matter and energy in the Universe must remain unchanged forever. It is difficult to accept a theory that violates such a firmly established scientific fact (1977, p. 32).

Jastrow, Robert (1977), Until the Sun Dies (New York: W.W. Norton)
Does this mean that the First Law of Thermodynamics, a foundational concept in physics, is invalid or that it cannot be applied today? Of course not. What it does mean is that when we are dealing with events like the origin of the first cause, laws of nature as we observe them today tend to get a bit fuzzy! This is not unexpected.

However, this "First Law" argument itself may be specious, because the First Law of Thermodynamics applies when comparing two points in space-time. Since before the beginning of the universe, it is senseless to talk about "time," it seems possible that the First Law has no meaning outside of our universe. But this point in itself raises another possible mode of addressing the objection about the origin of the first CSI. Essentially, when we are dealing with events outside of our universe, it seems very possible that many of the physical laws we have inferred through scientific investigation no longer apply. In short, we know how things behave inside the universe, but we don't necessarily know how things behave outside of it. Thus, it is possible that the "CSI is always the product of ID" law may not have any applicability outside of our universe.

Because this is a theological / philosophical question, one can get into philosophy and theology in the response. If one takes a Judeo-Christian view that the designer is God, who was existent eternally in the past and that He Himself is uncaused, then the ultimate source of CSI, the first Designer, God, would be uncaused. So the origin of the first CSI would be uncaused, because it comes from God, who has no "origin." Perhaps in that realm, CSI may indeed be able to be present in an eternally existent Being who itself was never created.

So, if the origin of the first CSI came about apart from intelligent design, that doesn't necessarily bear upon the validity of ID theory at this stage of the universe today. Even if we make uniformitarian assumptions, scientific explanations can only apply back so far--once one goes back before the laws of nature today, modern discoveries of science might not necessarily apply anymore.

It should also be noted that under this philosophical / theological explanation for the origin of the first designer, the need to account for CSI apart from a designer does nothing to help the materialist, as it does not imply that natural processes can create CSI.

If the first CSI was uncaused, this would imply a breakdown in the findings of science as we know them today (i.e. that CSI always comes from an intelligent agent). But as noted earlier regarding the First Law of Thermodynamics, most scientific theories get a bit fuzzy and may break down when we talk about origin of the first cause, or "events" which predate the origin of our physical universe. Whether you take a designed world-view, or a materialist world-view, you're going to have some fundamental laws getting fuzzy when you go back to the very beginning. For the materialist, at best this criticism applies equally to all worldviews, not just a designed worldview.