Bob Wright often argues that the evolution of life on Earth looks a whole lot like the product of design.

. . .  biologists agree that a strictly physical system or process—whose workings can be wholly explained in material terms—can have such extraordinary characteristics that it is fair to posit some special creative force as its source and ask about the nature of that force. Darwin inquired into the creative force behind plants and animals, and his answer was evolution. Surely the believer is entitled to ask the same question about evolution: Where did the amazing algorithm of natural selection come from?

Such a believer, by the way, would not here be making an argument for “intelligent design,” the idea that natural selection isn’t adequate to account for human evolution. On the contrary, the idea here is that natural selection is such a powerful mechanism that its origin demands a special explanation; that evolution by natural selection has patterns and properties every bit as extraordinary as an animal’s maturation toward functional integration.

A lot of commentators tend to dismiss this out of hand, but I think that’s too quick. Bob asks an interesting question and one that cannot be as easily dismissed by Occam’s Razor as you might be tempted to think.

For Bob is not saying that we should believe that there is a creator because evolution begs for an explanation. This would indeed violate the principle of parsimony. Bob is suggesting that we should wonder if there is a creator. That is,  he says: the majesty of evolution suggests we should attempt to accumulate more evidence. On the surface this seems highly appropriate.

The reason I am unenthusiastic about such a project is that unlike the mere existence of animal maturation, our evolution does carry with it, its own reason for existing. In short, for there to have never been evolution at all it must have been that case that no sustainable self-replicators were ever created anywhere in the universe. That seems in-and-of-itself implausible.

Once you have any sustainable self-replicator of any sort some, the process of evolution and natural selection is inevitable. Once that is the case you will get the features of maturation Bob is so enthralled by. The apparent majesty of evolutionary maturation is reduced to the existence of some self-replicator.

Now when we ask ourselves: how likely is it that some random assemblage of molecules would form a sustainable self-replicator. It seems quite likely. Indeed, it strikes us as so likely that the deeper mystery might be why the universe isn’t tiled over with self-replicators of all sorts. Why is so much of space apparently dead?

Indeed, as far as we know, we – as in Earth originating life – are the only ones. Now, perhaps this means that we are seriously underestimating the difficulty of making a sustainable self-replicator. However, the question is: why is evolution so much harder than it seems. Not: isn’t evolution so hard that it needs some outside explanation.