Suzan Mazur's interview of Chris McKay bears the descriptive title NASA Humanist Chris McKay: Where Darwinism Fails. McKay is a scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center where he researches the evolution of the solar system as well as the origin of life. From the linked article:
Suzan Mazur: What about other mechanisms of evolution, self-organization and self-assembly? They precede natural selection?
Chris McKay: Something had to precede Darwinian natural selection. The Darwinian paradigm breaks down in two obvious ways.
First, and most clear, Darwinian selection cannot be responsible for the origin of life. Secondly, there is some thought that Darwinian selection cannot fully explain the rise of complexity at the molecular level.
Suzan Mazur: So you're saying Darwinian natural selection sets in at what point?
Chris McKay: I think it must set in after life has started. After there's a genome, genotype. That's the one obvious place where Darwinian natural selection fails – is in the origin of life. It can't be Darwinian all the way down.
I agree that Darwinian selection did not give rise to the origin of life. An appreciation of the significance of this also makes it apparent that an ID perspective is not hiding out in gaps of knowledge. Gaps in knowledge exist within evolutionary eras as well but they are of a different nature. A search for knowledge can proceed within a theoretical framework providing an organizing structure. Not so with life's origin. Research in that field is like groping in the dark in search of adaquate theoretical supporting pillars. Not only are questions open, they are not fixed within overarching guideposts.
Suzan Mazur: At what point did the gene set in?
Chris McKay: We don't know. That's the question. It's got to do with whether the transition to life is abrupt or gradual.
There's another bombshell. Evolution is a process of gradual, accumulating incremental changes. McKay holds out the possibility of an abrupt transition from non-life to life. The term abrupt does not yield to exacting time specifications but that only adds to the wild west feeling of the field.
Suzan Mazur: What is the gene?
Chris McKay: The gene in a general sense is anything that stores information in an algorithmic way. Stores instructions how to build something. It doesn't have to be DNA, it could be RNA or it could be something else. But at some point life invented software.
I think the language of computers is very useful here. There's a distinction between hardware and software. Darwinian selection only works when there's software. And everything that's prebiotic is hardware.
Well put Chris McKay!
At some point life got onto software And that's when Darwinian selection could begin. Darwinian selection can't work on hardware by definition because Darwinian selection involves inheritable traits. Only a system that has software has inheritable, mutatable traits. It doesn't have to be DNA, but it has to be software. And it has to record algorithmic information, instructions.
Instructions are intrinsically telic and an abrupt arising of an algorithmic information system is an indicator of a design process- front loading what subsequently took place.