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In The Fifth Miracle Paul Davies suggests that any laws capable of explaining the origin of life must be radically different from scientific laws known to date? The problem, as he sees it, with currently known scientific laws, like the laws of chemistry and physics, is that they cannot explain the key feature of life that needs to be explained. That feature is specified complexity. Life is both complex and specified. The basic institution here is straightforward. Davies rightly notes, laws (that is, necessities of nature) can explain specification but not complexity. Once life (or more generally some self-replicator) has arrived, Davies thinks there is no problem accounting for specified complexity. Indeed, he thinks the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation is fully adequate to account for specified complexity once replicators are here.

In this paper I will argue that the problem of explaining specified complexity is even worse than Davies makes out in The Fifth Miracle. Not only have we yet to explain specified complexity at the origin of life, but the Darwinian mechanism fails to explain it for the subsequent history of life as well. To see that the Darwinian mechanism is incapable of generating specified complexity, it is necessary to consider the mathematical underpinnings of that mechanism, to wit, evolutionary algorithms. Roughly speaking, an evolutionary algorithm is any well-defined mathematical procedure that generates contingency via some chance process and then sifts it via some law-like process. The Darwinian mechanism, simulated annealing, training neural nets, and genetic algorithms all fall within this broad construal of evolutionary algorithms.


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