A System of Relations
I have told hundreds (maybe thousands, now) of students and colleagues about this paper. Starting with basic facts about cell biology, Tompa and Rose explain that the parts of cells do not explain the origin of cells. To understand the origin of cells, one must focus on the functional interrelations of those parts, which relations occupy the very tiny space of “alive” in the incomprehensibly larger space of “not alive.” That is something Richard Dawkins too understands. As he wrote in The Blind Watchmaker (1987, p. 9, emphasis in original):
…however many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead, or rather not alive. You may throw cells together at random, over and over again for a billion years, and not once will you get a conglomeration that flies or swims or burrows or runs, or does anything, even badly, that could remotely be construed as working to keep itself alive.
Several years ago, when I first became convinced of the importance of this paper, Bill Dembski did me a favor and ran some calculations, using the formula (p. 2075) for the possible pairwise interactions of the protein parts of a bacterial cell. Bill’s calculations are here. You can see that he stopped at 100 proteins. As I recall, what Bill said to me (with a laugh) was “I think this is enough to make the point, Paul.”
So, what I say to students is that Tompa and Rose 2011 represents the shadow of a science yet to be born, a science of biological design. The image you should have is the shadow of someone, standing outside a window, with the bright sun at his back. His shadow falls through the window into the room where we are sitting, and we can trace its outline. This unborn science will explain why attempting to construct the living state bottom-up, from its parts, is doomed to failure — as quixotic an enterprise as trying to build a perpetual motion machine. The paper by Tompa and Rose casts a shadow for us, and we need to trace its outline and derive the theory behind the shadow.
Note carefully: Tompa and Rose do not themselves support a design view of the origin of life. They argue that some unknown, incremental pathway assembled cells: “Presumably, early‐earth life forms originated through an accumulation of changes of ever increasing complexity” (p. 2077). But their interactome analysis does not explain how that pathway would have been traversed, without design – only that (as noted above) having the parts on hand will not yield a cell.
There are some very deep truths – truths with real-world applications — that are out there, which will never be found by someone wearing the ideological blinkers of materialism.
But what the blind can’t see, the Christian can: after he humbles himself to master the literature of the field, its methodologies, its procedures, and gauge its strengths and weaknesses.
First demonstrate that you are a good servant, and then you can earn the opportunity to lead.