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Signature in the Cell 7 (RJS)

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Stephen C. Meyer has published a (very long, but readable) book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design,
outlining his argument in favor of intelligent design. In Ch. 15 he summarized his argument for design.  In Ch. 16 he summarizes Dembski’s argument based on complex specified information and pattern recognition.  The hypothesis is again that the complex specified information in the DNA (or RNA or whatever) of the “first” self-replicating organism is evidence for design.

Meyer gives an illustration (one of his favorites) as he begins the chapter.  To demonstrate to a class that chance is not a good explanation for the origin of the information present in the DNA he would pass a combination lock around the room and have students guess the combination.

As I passed the lock around the class, and as student after student failed to find the combination in three random trials, I acted increasingly smug as the demonstration was, apparently, proving my point. Then, as if on cue and just as I was becoming insufferable, a student (say “John”) nonchalantly turned the dial three times – right, left, right – and popped the lock open. (p. 348)

While the class, at first considers the occurrence simply chance, they are soon asking if the demonstration was “rigged” – it seems too improbable to be true.  Sure enough Meyer had passed John the combination.  This demonstration is supposed to illustrate how we recognize intelligent design as the best explanation for the origin of specified information. The combination is the specified information. Every sequence of 3 numbers between 0 and 39 has equal probability – therefore each guess has a probability of 1 in 64000 of being the correct combination – the specified information capable of opening the lock. The odds against chance are so great, we immediately suspect design.

Another example discussed by Meyer (p. 361):

Consider these two strings of characters:

“iuinsdysk]idfawqnzkl,mfdifhs”

“Time and tide wait for no man.”

Both are equally “improbable” but only the second is not considered to arise by chance because it matches an independent external target.  It meets a functional requirement and conveys information to the reader.

Meyer and Dembski argue that the information content in DNA, because it meets a functional external requirement, must be designed.

Does this argument convince you? Why or why not?

The first thing to recognize in both of these examples is that the specified information is not in the specific set of numbers or characters. The specified functional information is in the lock or in the meaning human minds have assigned to the arrangement of characters in an English sentence. 

Consider Meyer’s classroom demonstration. He could just as easily have given “John” an unset lock, a box containing 40,000 slips of paper – 1000 copies each of the 40 possible numbers, 0-39, told him to go into a closet, choose three pieces at random, set the lock, close the lock, put the paper back, and return to the classroom. After the demonstration, when Meyer, with the class suspecting trickery, “walked over to the student who had opened the lock and asked him to tell the truth. “Did I tell you the combination before class started?”(p. 350)” the student would have answered no. When asked if he chose the combination randomly he would have answered yes. Of course he didn’t choose it randomly after the lock was set. He chose it randomly before the lock was set. He did not use chance to open the lock.

What does this have to do with biology, the cell, and DNA? First, Meyer’s argument, in three parts:

Because the base sequences in the coding region of DNA do exemplify such independent functional requirements (and produce outcomes that hit independent functional targets in combinatorial space), they are specified in the sense required by Dembski’s theory.

(Meyer then gives a brief recap of cell complexity)

For this reason, any nucleotide base sequence that directs the production of proteins hits a functional target within an abstract space of possibilities. As discussed in Chapters 4, 9, and 11, the chemical properties of DNA allow a vast ensemble of possible arrangements of nucleotide bases. Yet within that set of combinatorial possibilities relatively few will – given the way the molecular machinery of the gene-expression system works – actually produce functional proteins. … This smaller set of functional sequences, therefore delimits a domain (or target or pattern) within a larger set of possibilities. Moreover, this smaller domain constitutes an independent pattern or target, since it distinguishes functional from nonfunctional sequences, and the functionality of nucleotide base sequences depends on the independent requirements of protein function.

… Accordingly the nucleotide bases are not only complex, but also specified. Therefore, according to Dembski’s theory, the specified arrangements of bases in DNA point to prior intelligent activity,  (p. 365-367)

Second: The penultimate section of the chapter (pp. 367-369) presents an argument by analogy – the way cells process information is similar to the way computers process information. The functional logic is similar, it is complex and specified. “Thus, according to Dembski’s theory, digitally encoded information and information-processing system in the cell points to intelligent design. (p. 369)”

And to close the loop:

Since DNA, RNA, and proteins do have large amounts of functionally specified information, and since even the first simple self-replicating organisms would have required large amounts of it, Dembski’s theory also implies that the origin of specified information necessary to build the first living cell is best explained by intelligent design. (p. 372)

How does this argument fare?

1. Meyer’s first point about DNA only establishes that the lock is set. The DNA code has been set for the last 2.5 to 3.5 billion years. Any design is not in the code, but in realm of chemical possibilities – the functional significance that set the lock in the first place.

2. The argument by analogy to the way computers process and store information is weak. There are not many ways to process and store information.

3. The final statement – closing the loop to include the first simple self-replicating organism assumes the conclusion (the lock is set). It does not address the way the lock was set in the first place. My friend quoted in Tuesday’s post considers it possible that setting the lock (esp. development of the original evolvable self replicating molecules) involved design, we don’t know enough to rule it out. But as he said – if origin of life researchers
find good evidence for spontaneous origin of life, … I wouldn’t see this as being in
conflict with my faith, since God can choose to create life through the
laws of Chemistry, if He wishes.
Once there is an evolvable self-replicating molecule it is possible to start to set the lock, but the design isn’t in the code, the combination. The design is in the initiation process and in the chemical and physical landscape of the universe, the realm of chemical possibility.

Finally, this does not address the issue of evolution. There is nothing whatever in this discussion that undermines the theory of evolution once we have the first simple self-replicating organism. There is no controversy to teach. Evolution gets us from the first cell to the diversity of life we see today.

Now it is your turn.

What do you think – does the origin of life, the complexity of the cell, or the specified information content of DNA demonstrate intelligent design in biology? Why or why not?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 6:55 am


The Design Spectrum
Meyer’s entire argument convinces me that design is the best inference to the best explanation for the origin of life. You have provided no evidence or argument to show that another explanation is the better inference.
You said,

The argument by analogy to the way computers process and store information is weak. There are not many ways to process and store information.

Why do you think your comment weakens Meyer’s argument? Your comment seems to confirm one reason the design inference is quite strong here.
I will simply add that Meyer’s book is excellent, and, I believe, has become a “must read” for anyone to comment intelligently on “intelligent design.” It is valuable for so many reasons. His articulation of the scientific method for historical sciences lays essential groundwork for any informed discussion on origins.

The design is in the initiation process and in the chemical and physical landscape of the universe, the realm of chemical possibility.

An interesting possibility, but you provide no evidence for it. More importantly, once again, your comment merely “displaces” design to an earlier time. This confirms Meyer’s argument. This is perhaps a helpful way of thinking about it for those who are more comfortable with “fine-tuning design.”



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 8:59 am


pds,
All of Meyer’s arguments by analogy are very weak. They either miss the point completely (like his comparison with a combination lock or an English text) and are misdirection; or they see an analogy in a system where the possibilities are limited and the solutions accessible naturally and in human design (like his comparison with a computer and program).
Meyer concentrates on DNA and the cell information system, so he doesn’t give other examples – but perhaps consideration of other examples will help make my point clear. A wheel is round because round objects traverse smooth ground smoothly. We don’t see wheels on animals because they don’t traverse smooth ground. A better example…light harvesting for photosynthesis requires energy storage, energy storage is best achieved in such a situation by separating charge across a dielectric so that the energy can be used efficiently. The fact that light harvesting in artificial and natural systems do this is not evidence for design in nature, but a reflection of the laws of physics and the realm of possibility. The fact that eyes and cameras both use lenses is not evidence for design, but a consequence of the fact that ray optics and light collection requires the production of an image in this fashion.



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Hrafn

posted February 11, 2010 at 9:17 am


THE RETURN OF THE PIXIEDUST ARGUMENT
By ‘pixie dust’ I mean something whose existence is in doubt, is ill-defined, not measurable, but for which miraculous properties have been purported. This metaphor appears to work near-perfectly for Dembski’s ‘specified information’.
I counted SI nine times in RJS’s summary of Meyer’s argument. It is therefore fairly clear that if SI doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny (which it doesn’t) then Meyer’s argument implodes.
Let me start out by giving a couple of examples of my own:
“In the works of Fellini, a predominant concept is the distinction between creation and destruction.”
“54696d6520616e642074696465207761697420666f72206e6f206d616e2e”
Which of the two contains more ‘specified information’? If you guessed the first, you’re wrong. It is simply the first sentence from a Random PoMo essay generator. Grammatically correct, but meaningless. The second is in fact Meyer’s second example converted into hexadecimal.
Even if you accept Dembski’s claims of specified information, and that information is in some way defined by the negative log of probability (which as far as I know, no legitimate information theorist accepts), you cannot calculate the probability unless you have detailed information about the process by which it came into existence – information that Meyer and Dembski lack for DNA.
Their “specification” is not an “an independent external target” – it is the ‘Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy’ of drawing a target around the bullethole. They simply have no idea as to what the “functional external requirement” involved is (and I rather doubt if they ever explicitly, let alone rigorously, specify what it is) – as they have no idea as to what range of molecule-structures might provide analogous properties to DNA.
Further DNA does not normally ‘convey information to the reader’ but rather interacts with other molecules. From what I have heard, certain types of clay lattices likewise can interact with other lattices and replicate. Does that mean that mud has specified complexity?



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 9:32 am


Hrafn,
That’s a good way of making the point.



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Daniel T.

posted February 11, 2010 at 9:39 am


I think it is important to note that given enough time, the students *would* have been able to open the lock, even if Meyer hadn’t given any of them the combination. Picking the lock becomes even easier if the students who were closest to the correct combination got extra tries.
All of the above should be obvious to anybody who reads the analogy, especially those who understand what the theory of evolution is all about.
I would love to ask Mr. Meyer; if the DNA/RNA sequences were very much simpler would he then conceded that there is no possible way they were intelligently designed? Only an idiot would answer no to such a question of course and this proves that his whole argument has nothing to do with “proving” intelligent design, and everything to do with attempting to refute evolution.
Attempting to refute a theory is fine work and good science, but don’t try to make it seem like refuting one theory proves some other theory. ID is unfalsifiable and therefore not science.



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Hrafn

posted February 11, 2010 at 9:54 am


THE LIMITS OF ANALOGIES
Little Johnny had heard in his Human Biology class that DNA was just like a computer program. He had also heard how this DNA program is split in two and the mother’s half and the father’s half is combined to create a new program.
He decided to try this out by taking alternate lines from two files of computer code and pasting the together into a single file. Boy was he surprised by the interesting error messages the compiler came back with (he’d have been even more surprised by the error messages if he’d tried it on a binary file, I suspect)!
The moral of the story is that even any analogy (even a good one – but there are always more bad ones available than good) – but can lead you astray. Good analogies provide a good means of evoking insight and intuition. But any analogy, good, bad or indifferent, can easily lead you up the garden path to a completely false conclusion. They should guide you in finding hypotheses, not in testing them.



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Hrafn

posted February 11, 2010 at 9:57 am


(The last phrase of #6 would probably be better expressed as “not as a test of them”)



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bob johnson

posted February 11, 2010 at 9:59 am


Meyer?s combination lock story only makes me believe he has nothing to offer as an explanation in favor of ID. The odds for winning the Powerball lottery is just short of 200 BILLION to 1 but people keeping winning. so the odds of 64,000 to 1 are not a great feat. Now I can not prove an intelligent designer did not give, unbeknown to the Powerball winner, the correct numbers but that does not infer an intelligent designer did give the winner the correct numbers. Signature in the Cell offers no new information or in site into intelligent design. The book is based of God of the Gaps



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James-Michael Smith

posted February 11, 2010 at 10:12 am


“Evolution gets us from the first cell to the diversity of life we see today.”
This of course is the claim, but given the amount of time required for all of life’s biodiversity to arise out of undirected means through the Darwinian selection/mutation mechanism alone seems massively implausible within the amount of time life has existed…at least to many of us it does. In theory I see how mutation/selection could create much diversity within life beginning from a single self-replicating cell; but to bridge the gaps between amoeba, crawfish, snow leopard and killer whale seems to go beyond (to borrow Behe’s latest title) the “edge of evolution.”



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dopderbeck

posted February 11, 2010 at 10:28 am


Like Bob (#8) said, doesn’t it make a huge difference if it’s possible to try various permutations of the possible lock combinations over a billion years or so?
RJS, when you’re critiquing the analogy of the lock, I am understanding correctly that locks are not like chemically based systems because certain combinations of chemicals “want” to happen according to the laws of physics — whereas, with something mechanical like a lock, no one permutation is “preferred” to any other? (Obviously I’m using “want” and “preferred” here by way of analogy.)



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AHH

posted February 11, 2010 at 10:39 am


A bit of an aside, but Stephen Matheson, biology prof at Calvin College, has started reviewing Meyer’s book (one chapter at a time) on his Quintessence of Dust blog:
http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/
So far he has gotten through Chapter 3.
It is clear that Matheson is no fan of the ID movement, and he is not always as gracious as one might hope in the way he words things (some passages might cause pds to go ballistic). But I daresay that Matheson is more qualified to judge the science in the book than anybody on this blog.
While I can’t adjudicate the details of the science (and Matheson has not yet gotten to the meat of the science in his review), I found some material in the entry on Chapter 1 interesting in its claim that (according to Matheson and contemporary sources he cites) Meyer misleads readers about some history of early days of the ID movement.



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Hrafn

posted February 11, 2010 at 11:15 am


James-Michael Smith (9):
You fail to understand the mathematics of biodiversity and speciation — which is geometric not linear. There are approximately 1.6 million species alive today, and life has existed for approximately 3.5 billion years. Assuming no extinctions that would only require speciation on average every 170 million years. Of course that is an unreasonable assumption, but even with quite high extinction rates (only 1.004 surviving species per speciation) would only require an average of one speciation per million years — quite achievable.
(The above math was all done on a deterministic basis for simplicity — doing it stochastically will give a slightly different answer, but not enough to alter the feasibility of diversity via speciation.)



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 11:36 am


dopderbeck (#10),
In the analogy of the lock is a misdirection in Meyer’s book, as is the analogy with a printed line of text.
In biology DNA did not have to hit an external target. The target was not pre-specified in terms of a specific DNA code. Rather the specific DNA code and the more complex biochemistry of the cell grew up together.
Language is an interesting analogy – but the underlying importance is a means of conveying ideas and information, not hitting a specific language and grammatical construct. Chinese, Akkadian, English, Greek … all these are possible means to convey ideas. Perhaps DNA can be considered a language – but it grew organically to express the right “ideas.” There is no relevance to the “improbability” of a given DNA sequence.



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 11:40 am


Hrafn (#12)
The average of one speciation per million years is a reasonable estimate I think, although I don’t think that the processes of evolution work in a smooth (one per million years) fashion. Rather when conditions change and/or there is new “space” to be filled – we can see much faster rates.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:00 pm


The Design Spectrum
Bob #8 and Dop #10,
The lock analogy is a small part of the book. Probability analysis is a big part of the book. You have obviously not read the book.
I think your claim of lots of winners at 200 billion to 1 odds may be off. Do you have backup?
In any case, the odds of origin of life by chance are way, way longer than those.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm


RJS, you write that “The argument by analogy to the way computers process and store information is weak. There are not many ways to process and store information.”
Can you clarify this ojection?



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:04 pm


pds,
Probability is a big part of the book. But the arguments based on probability are only relevant for Meyer’s argument about DNA in the context of specified information (i.e. the lock or English text) analogies.



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm


Sacred Frenzy (#16),
To do more than I have already I will need to look at the book – which is not with me at this time. If no one has addressed it, I will when I get a chance.



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Hrafn

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:08 pm


RJS (14):
My calculation was of course a massive over-simplification (in order to be tractable). I suspect evolution would have been VERY rapid to start with (due to the short life cycle of the simple lifeforms and the shear volume of unoccupied evolutionary niches), with some slowing down thereafter (as niches filled up and as average lifespans increased — remembering however that the vast majority of species even today, most of which are insects, are very short-lived).
Actually, my average speciation cycle is probably on the long side — Wikipedia lists 13 species of genus Homo in the last 2 million years — and hominids have a far longer lifespan than the average.



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bob johnson

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:17 pm


pds #15
There have been about 96 winners since 2003. What may be off is the 200 billion to one. It may be only 17 billion to 1. Don’t trust what you read on web sites.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm


The Design Spectrum
AHH #11,
I took a quick look at Matheson’s “review.” He spends a paragraph nit-picking a very minor detail (Meyer’s description of the nature of the publisher of “The Mystery of Life’s Origin”) in the book, basically admits it is technically true, calls it an embellishment, and then calls into question Meyer’s personal character.
Wow, does he have an agenda or what? Does this kind of rhetoric really further the debate?
This attack seems like basic ad hominem based on a very uncharitable reading of the book followed by claims that it is misleading. I am embarrassed by Matheson’s attack. Why do Christians mimic Richard Dawkins’ talking points and tactics against fellow believers? Tragic.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm


The Design Spectrum
RJS #17,
I was addressing Bob’s false “belief” in #8 about Meyer’s book and his unfair attacks that follow.
Bob #20,
I am not trusting anything on web sites. I am asking you for backup for your claims and you are still not giving it.



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bob johnson

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:30 pm


RJS #17
Do you want a list of the names and address of the winners so you can contact them? I will provide them if you want.
Meyer’w book is a book of “God of the Gaps” is a fair attack.



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 12:50 pm


Bob (#23),
I assume your offer of a list was meant for pds?
I don’t need to check – the lottery has been won, many times.



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AHH

posted February 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm


pds #21,
[regarding the ongoing review at
http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/ ]
I agree with you that ultimately the scientific assessment of Meyer’s argument (which Matheson has not gotten to yet) will matter more. But you misrepresent Matheson in characterizing his criticism as just nitpicking a minor detail about a publisher.
Matheson was noting pervasive propaganda techniques in this section. Meyer implied that these events took place at a scientific conference (when it was a church-sponsored meeting between theist and atheist scientists), that an ID book was published by a “publisher of scientific monographs” (it was a publisher of philosophy works), that the mainstream scientists at this meeting were “defensive and hostile” (contradicted by the contemporary report of leading Christian astronomer [and proponent of lower-case id] Owen Gingerich, who was there) and Matheson notes that descriptions in the passage puff up a pro-ID scientist and demean a top-notch scientist who is anti-ID.
Taken together, this reinforces the view (with more than a grain of truth in my opinion) that carefully spun propaganda is a big part of the MO of the ID movement, at least that part represented by the Discovery Institute. It is unfortunate that ID has become so caught up in the “culture wars,” but it is reality and has to be a part of the picture as we consider the impact of the movement.
But again, I want to see what Matheson (who is more qualified on the science than you or I or I think even RJS) does when he gets to the scientific parts of the book. I hope he evaluates it on its merits and does not let his perception of propagandizing in the earlier chapters get in the way of that. Time will tell; he seems to be doing 1 or 2 chapters a week.



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Hrafn

posted February 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm


PDS (21):
Matheson goes well beyond “nit-picking a very minor detail” to present a pervasive pattern of distortion of the early history of ID on Meyer’s part — in an attempt to make ID appear more sciencey than it is, and to make the early skeptics appear embittered.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 1:34 pm


The Design Spectrum
AHH #11
To add a bit, Matheson is far more misleading.
He selectively quotes Gingerich to claim that he contradicts Meyer. In fact, if you read the full passage, Gingerich’s account is completely consistent with Meyer’s account.

Gingerich said that his report might “give the flavor of the discussion” but couldn’t convey “the richness of the broth.” Except for a few ad hominem remarks, “the entire dialogue was conducted with intelligence and good humor, with each side respecting while disagreeing with the philosophical orientation of their opponents.”

Gingerich confirms that there were some ad hominem remarks.
Matheson quotes Meyer as describing one moment at the conference:

That was where the fireworks started. Other scientists on the panel became uncharacteristically defensive and hostile. Dr. Russell Doolittle, of the University of California at San Diego, suggested that if the three authors were not satisfied with the progress of origin-of-life experiments, then they should “do them.” Never mind that another scientist on the panel who had favored Thaxton’s hypothesis, Professor Dean Kenyon, of San Francisco State University, was a leading origin-of-life researcher who had himself performed many such experiments. It was clear that Doolittle regarded the three scientists, despite their strong credentials, as upstarts who had violated some unspoken convention.

In other words it was a typical conference (generally cordial with moments that were not) and both Meyer and Gingerich are completely consistent.
Matheson seems desperate to sully Meyer’s account. We don’t need this kind of stuff.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm


AHH #25,
You say

Matheson notes that descriptions in the passage puff up a pro-ID scientist and demean a top-notch scientist who is anti-ID.

You claim Meyer “demeans” Dr. Russell Doolittle by referring to him as “Dr. Russell Doolittle”? Remarkable!
Matheson is tearing down a man’s character with this stuff. I find it simply ugly.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 2:08 pm


Also, Meyer does not mislead about the nature of the conference. He does not call it a “scientific conference.” Read his full description on page 24 of his book and read the full ASA description and Gingerich’s account and they are fully and remarkably consistent.
Robert Shapiro was even there.



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James F. McGrath

posted February 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm


What bothers me most about illustrations using English language or combination locks is that DNA, in contrast, has only four possible letters, uses only words of three letters in length, and all letter combinations mean something. So the analogy seems to me to be misleading rather than persuasive.



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R Hampton

posted February 11, 2010 at 2:19 pm


There is no controversy to teach. Evolution gets us from the first cell to the diversity of life we see today.
Exactly – if you do not dispute common descent. Yet ID scientists try to have it both ways; claim to have no problem with speciation by evolution and then turn around to say it is insufficient to produce the diversity of life. To quote Stephen Meyer from a self-promotional article posted at the Discovery Instutite:
In the article, entitled ?The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories?, Dr. Meyer argues that no current materialistic theory of evolution can account for the origin of the information necessary to build novel animal forms. He proposes intelligent design as an alternative explanation for the origin of biological information and the higher taxa.
Of course ID never specifies what those body plans or higher taxa are – except for one instance by ID scientist Casey Luskin. In his Human Origins Model Under Intelligent Design, the miraculous appearance of Man is illustrated by being a detached, free-floating lineage unconnected to the rest of Mammalia and the rest of the Phylogenic Tree.
Therefore if Stephen Meyer were to model the diversity of life in the form of a Phylogenetic tree, there would be as many gaps as their are “novel animal forms” (whatever that is). Yet no one within the ID movement – not even Stephen Meyer who made this bold claim – has dared to model ID theory!



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AHH

posted February 11, 2010 at 2:27 pm


pds #28,
You claim Meyer “demeans” Dr. Russell Doolittle by referring to him as “Dr. Russell Doolittle”? Remarkable!
Matheson’s point was that pro-ID Dean Kenyon, an undistinguished professor at a middling university, was referred to as “a leading origin-of-life researcher.” [I just did a search on Kenyon and find only 8 scientific publications in his whole career, starting in 1965 and ending in 1976 which was 9 years before this conference]
Doolittle, a very distinguished Professor at a top-notch university [I find over 200 peer-reviewed scientific publications], accomplished enough to be inducted in the National Academy of Sciences, was simply referenced as “Dr. Russell Doolittle” as though he were some average Ph.D. at the meeting.
Can you not see the “spin” in Meyer’s side-by-side characterization of those two scientists?



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 2:45 pm


AHH #32,
Meyer gives Kenyon’s credentials because Doolittle attacked Kenyon’s credentials.
You took Matheson’s opinion and converted it to Meyer “demeaned” Doolittle. That is simply false.



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm


Perhaps it would be better if we stick to the issue in this post – on the question of “specified information” and the usefulness of Meyer’s analogies, or at least to issues related to this post.



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James Goetz

posted February 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm


http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/
Within the context of philosophy, I’m convinced that the origin of self-replicating nucleotides in our universe with 10^22 stars is highly unlikely apart from supernatural intervention. But this conclusion needs to stay in philosophy, not science.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 3:22 pm


RJS #2
You said,

The fact that eyes and cameras both use lenses is not evidence for design, but a consequence of the fact that ray optics and light collection requires the production of an image in this fashion.

That just begs the question. Your entire comment gives no reason why the design inference is weakened. It is full of question-begging assertions.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 3:27 pm


RJS #34,
Sure, now that lots of people have ganged up to attack Meyer’s personal integrity, let’s drop it.



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R Hampton

posted February 11, 2010 at 3:47 pm


pds,
All that a lens demonstrates is that a given material has the property to bend light – that is all. Lenses can (and do) form naturally all the time; rain drops, for example. Do you agree that rain drops and rainbows are not evidence for Intelligent Design?



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John W Frye

posted February 11, 2010 at 3:49 pm


As a pastor sitting in the bleachers and watching the interactions on this topic, I am getting an education (I hope) in a field I am not trained in and in processes I barely understand.
I thought the observation that one’s argument (A) against another (B) is not in itself a proof of (A). Cool.



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Rick Presley

posted February 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm


I’m not sure what the intent is here – Does RJS intend to knock holes in Meyer’s proposition that complex specified information for external processes supports design? If so, his casual dismissal in his points speaks more to an unwillingness to engage the issue than any real critique of Meyer’s case.
RJS said: “Meyer’s first point about DNA only establishes that the lock is set.”
This misses the elephant in the room. No one questions that the lock itself was designed. When I taught biology, we used a “lock and key” analogy to discuss enzyme function as cellular catalyst. I find it implausible that a chemical mechanism far more complex, energy efficient, self-creating, and self-repairing lacks a design element, i.e. it arose by chance, but a combination lock which is not capable of repairing itself, reproducing itself, and making itself functional must be designed.
The second “refutation” that there are not many ways to store information is the laziest response I’ve seen. I started listening to music etched analogically on vinyl, replaced it with magnetic bits of tape, replaced it again with a laser-etched, optically scanned disk, and now play the same music from digitally encoded bits of silicon on either an MP3 player hard drive or an SD card. The “same” music is also available in print format from sheet music, or encoded as engrams or memes in my brain (depending on your favorite theorist). And that’s just off the top of my head. I have a feeling that the ways of storing information are more varied than RJS is willing to admit.
And it could be that I entered this conversation late where much has already been said, but I can’t make any sense out of his third argument at all. Could be my natural feeble mindedness doing me it.



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pds

posted February 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm


“Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed.” -Francis Crick
The analogy argument is only the first prong of the design argument. You defeat it by showing a plausible alternative. You don’t “keep in mind” that it was not design until you show a plausible alternative. For origin of life, none has been given.
For the first and second prongs, see here:
http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/the-form-of-design-arguments-from-nature/



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 4:14 pm


Rick,
Meyer’s proposal is that the specified information content in the DNA is evidence for design because it matches an external functional target. All I intend to argue is that this is wrong. The external functional target may or may not be designed – but the DNA itself is not evidence for design.
With respect to your examples on information storage – those are different media, not really different forms of information storage. In Meyer’s analogy – no one (including Meyer) denies that cells and computers involve different material media. The analogy is to the structure of information storage and use, the internal logic.



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R Hampton

posted February 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm


Speaking of proteins, DNA and RNA are not the only types of “information” that naturally evolve:
Darwinian Evolution of Prions in Cell Culture
Prions are infectious proteins consisting mainly of PrPSc, a ? sheet?rich conformer of the normal host protein PrPC, and occur in different strains. Strain identity is thought to be encoded by PrPSc conformation. We found that biologically cloned prion populations gradually became heterogeneous by accumulating “mutants,” and selective pressures resulted in the emergence of different mutants as major constituents of the evolving population. Thus, when transferred from brain to cultured cells, “cell-adapted” prions outcompeted their “brain-adapted” counterparts, and the opposite occurred when prions were returned from cells to brain. Similarly, the inhibitor swainsonine selected for a resistant substrain, whereas, in its absence, the susceptible substrain outgrew its resistant counterpart. Prions, albeit devoid of a nucleic acid genome, are thus subject to mutation and selective amplification.



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GrayMac

posted February 11, 2010 at 7:20 pm


My understanding is that Meyer’s argument has nothing to do with whether or not the lock was designed, but rather, that the massively improbable chance of a student guessing the right combination is similar to chemicals arranging themselves in the right way for life to have spontaneously come into being (without a Designer).
RJS’s response tries to deny this comparison by claiming that, instead, the spontaneous coming together of the chemicals only LOOKS like it has been designed to us because of how we define design. But if the universe had a preset formula for how chemicals behave, then they would naturally come together anyway, with only an appearance of design.
Personally, I don’t see how this argument escapes the need for a Designer. If the student goes to the back room, randomly picks 3 numbers and then sets the lock accordingly, he still cannot escape the fact that at some point, some intelligent mind chose a certain combination, whether it was before or after the “event”.



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Bob Cheslow

posted February 11, 2010 at 7:30 pm


Meyer’s lock demonstration is silly, for reasons that have nothing to do with biology or probabilities.
What the students actually suspect happened when the lock opens is that a human being intervened. Meyer’s calls this “the design hypothesis”, but that is a semantic sleight-of-hand, because no student in their right mind would believe that any other sort of intelligent agent was involved.
Imagine if Meyer had assured the students that “no human being, or no living thing of any type” had intervened in the demonstration. Would the students still guess that some “intelligent agent” had given out the combination? Like some ghost, or spirit, or god? Of course not! They would then conclude something else had happened – either the lock had broken, or the student was adept at feeling the tumblers fall, or… anything but the weird hypothesis that some non-living intelligence had intervened.
And so it is with Intelligent Design Theory. Either this supposed Intelligent Designer was a life form or it was not. If it was a life form, then ID fails to explain how the very first life form came to exist. And if it was not a life form, then ID is positing something that violates our experience-based understanding of intelligent agency. Our repeated and uniform experience confirms that all intelligent agents are life forms – that intelligence is a property of complex, living organisms.
So as far as reasoning from our experience-based knowledge goes (and Meyer always claims to be doing just that), no intelligent agent could have possibly been involved in the origin of life.



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 8:16 pm


GrayMac,
An intelligent mind doesn’t have to choose the combination – the choice of combination can be pure chance. But once a combination is chosen it has to be used to open the lock.
Same with DNA – the code in DNA, the sequence of nucleotides that code for the various amino acids – could have arisen by chance, but once the code was determined, it has to be used for cells to reproduce etc.
Meyer’s argument isn’t in the beauty and complexity of the cell, but in what he calls the specified information content of DNA – and this just doesn’t make any sense as an argument for design.



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 8:50 pm


dopderbeck (all the way back up at #10),
Certainly some combinations of chemicals are favored energetically and these “want” to happen. But the precise genetic code (which series of three bases code for which amino acid) doesn’t seem to have a basis in the affinity of these bases for the amino acid. Perhaps when or if the process of abiogenesis is better understood we will see that this code had to be – but I rather doubt it. More likely some of the code happened by random selection – like the specific combination that John used in my example was chosen randomly.
There is a standard code that connects the DNA sequence to amino acids, but there is also some variation in the code. Wikipedia has more information on the genetic code.



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R Hampton

posted February 11, 2010 at 8:52 pm


And the lock – of which their are untold billions of copies – has multiple solutions that will open a similar multitude of safes (it’s a very weird lock!)
In other words, one singular change (A) can enable a new beneficial ability (a) such that A > a.
Sometimes several different singular changes, (A1,A2,B2) will each independently enable the same beneficial ability (a1) such that A1 > a1; A2 > a1; B2 > a1.
So while the number of possible singular changes (A1…Z(X)) is very, very large – most of which (will not) enable new beneficial abilities – a smaller set of possible changes (A1…Z(Y)) will enable a similarly smaller set of beneficial abilities (a1…z(Z)) such that A1 > a1; B3 > a2; Z5 > f3, etc., etc.
So what Meyer is saying is that the probability that change M1 will specifically enable m1 is astronomically impossible.
But that’s a flawed of looking at the problem. Because we are talking about chance, M1 could have lead to any number of other benefits worth preserving, likewise any number of other changes could have led to m1.
So the real probability that Meyer needs to calculate is the chance that any possible change will enable any possible beneficial ability. That’s a much, much small number.



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RJS

posted February 11, 2010 at 9:21 pm


Sacred Frenzy (#16)
First to summarize Meyer’s argument on pp. 367-369:
Meyer says that:

the cell’s information-processing system has three key elements: (1) digital storage and encoding of information, (2) machinery for processing that information to produce a functional outcome, and (3) encoding of higher-order (hierarchically arranged) regulatory information. These three key elements for expressing biological information are also found in computer-based information processing systems. They too (1) encode information digitally, (2) process information with machinery, and (3) use hierarchically organized information to regulate the expression of other information. (p. 368)

He says this is design pattern – “a general way of solving a design pattern.” Meyer then claims that the design patterns in the cell (more than just the simple one described above) “match ones we know from an independent realm of experience, in particular, from our own information technology.” Meyer relates a conversation with a software engineer colleague who noted that “the cell often employs a functional logic that mirrors our own but exceeds it in the elegance of its execution.”
The conclusion is:

Thus, according to Dembski’s theory, the digitally encoded information and information-processing system in the cell points to intelligent design (p. 369).

But if there are only a few kinds of design patterns available, of course the cell will resemble the logical patterns in computer programming on this gross scale. It couldn’t avoid it and still function.
This is similar to an argument that a camera is intelligently designed to uses a lens to produce an image, an eye also uses a lens to produce an image, therefore the similarity between the eye and a camera is evidence for intelligent design. But there are only a limited number of ways to produce an image – the laws of physics (ray optics) demand that a lens will be used. I think the analogy to information processing is similar – there are only a limited number of design patterns and it is neither coincidence nor design that we see analogies between the cell and a computer program.
The similarities don’t prove design, and they don’t even provide a convincing suggestion of design.



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pds

posted February 12, 2010 at 9:51 am


The Design Spectrum
RJS #49,
It looks like I am not the only one to find your reasoning completely unconvincing.
You seem to be saying:
1) if it came about by non-design means it would have to end up looking designed
2) it looks designed
3) therefore it was not designed, and no design inference is warranted at all, not even a tentative one.
Do I have that right?
I would say,
1. the appearance creates a strong but tentative inference of design.
2. we look for non-design alternative explanations
3. if we find none, or they all look extremely implausible, the original design inference remains.



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RJS

posted February 12, 2010 at 10:07 am


pds,
No that is not what I am saying. I am saying that it is not possible to construct a convincing design argument when the phenomenon is inevitable – a truism.
And I was asked for clarification on a terse statement and gave it. As no one else has yet commented on the clarification, I am sure you are not alone, but you may be in the minority in finding Meyer’s reasoning plausible here.



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pds

posted February 12, 2010 at 10:49 am


RJS #51,
“the phenomenon is inevitable”
DNA is not “inevitable” by non-design processes or mechanisms or chance. As far as I can see, you are begging the entire question.



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RJS

posted February 12, 2010 at 10:54 am


I didn’t say DNA was inevitable (although it may be). I said that the digitally encoded information and information-processing systems have inevitable similarities – in a cell and in a computer, like an eye and a camera have inevitable similarities. The argument on 367-369 merely states a truism – it doesn’t indicate design.



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BradK

posted February 12, 2010 at 11:51 am


pds #52,
How do you know that DNA is not inevitable? How would one go about determining whether it is inevitable or not?
How is your claim that DNA is not inevitable any different from a claim by Richard Dawkins that natural selection is a “blind, unconscious, automatic process” and “has no purpose in mind?”



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R Hampton

posted February 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm


RNA/DNA may or may not be inevitable but sugar is, and that is worth noting:
A team of scientisits has detected molecules of glycolaldehyde, a type of sugar, within a cloud at the center of our galaxy. Glycolaldehyde is a simpler compound than common table sugar. Molecules of glycolaldehyde can combine to form the sugar ribose. Ribose is a building block of DNA and RNA, which form the genes of all known living things. Sugars, DNA, and RNA are among the organic compounds (compounds that contain carbon) essential to life.
A further explanation:
The ribose molecule used by nature for the construction of DNA and RNA is the D (-) ribose. The D and L nomenclature was introduced by E. Fischer to distinguish the two form of glyceraldehyde:
(+)-D-Glyceraldehyde
(-)-L-Glyceraldehyde
The letters L und D describe the position of the chiral secondary OH-group; (+) and (-) are only telling us if the compound turns linear polarized light to the left (-) or to the right (+).



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AHH

posted February 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm


Coincidentally, a critque of Meyer’s analogy to computer information appeared today on a blog of the American Scientific Affiliation:
http://www.asa3online.org/Book/2010/02/12/dna-information-and-computer-code/
The author, Dr. Randy Isaac, is the Executive Director of the ASA. More important for this purpose, he is retired from a high-level position at IBM research and is an expert on information theory. This is the latest in a series of posts on that blog about Meyer’s book, mostly looking at the information aspects. Randy seems to be treating it respectfully but not buying the argument for the most part.
The ASA is a professional affiliation for Christians in the sciences and engineering (I am a member) and has many members (though probably not a majority) sympathetic to ID. See http://www.asa3.org for more information.



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RJS

posted February 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm


AHH,
Interesting – we will get to CH. 17 and perhaps more next week and this is a good resource to include.



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pds

posted February 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm


AHH #56,
The distinction he claims is there does not undermine Meyer’s argument at all. He doesn’t even attempt to explain why it does.
DNA exhibits both specified complexity and specified information to a stunning degree. He does not contest that at all.



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pds

posted February 12, 2010 at 2:18 pm


AHH #56
Isaac said,
“But as we look closer, we see that the functional specificity is derived precisely from its ability to survive and reproduce, not from any abstract meaning.”
What? How does know that? To know about any abstract meaning of DNA, we need to know it’s origin. More question-begging.



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R Hampton

posted February 12, 2010 at 2:48 pm


pds,
Prions survive and reproduce without DNA. Where is the specified complexity and specified information in the Prion?



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Dave

posted February 12, 2010 at 4:06 pm


I don’t want to sound like a lunatic, but proving intelligent design does not prove the existance of G-d. They would still need to prove that there is not an even more advanced civilization on another planet somewhere that designed us.
Imagine what the religion conversations would look like once we find extra-solar intelligence….
Dave



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Unaplogetic Catholic

posted February 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm


“DNA exhibits both specified complexity and specified information to a stunning degree.”
A prefect, very precise scientific summary of the entire ID movement, except “specified” “complexity” “informaiton” and “stunning” are all undefined.
I’ve asked these questions before of ID proponents including PDS and never gotten an answer:
1. What is the measured “specified complexity” of a DNA molecule?
2. What is the measured “specified compelxity” of a polypeptide molecule?
If the measurements of these two molecules are different, Why? If they are the same, why?
What is the measured “specified information” content of a DNA molecule. What are the units of measure? “Dembskis?”
“Stunning” describes an emotional resoonse, not usually associated with the precision required of scientific theories.
ID proponents will be taken seriously when they can do the math on the molecules not on “anology locks.”



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Darren King

posted February 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm


As someone without a detailed scientific background I sometimes find these discussions a little obtuse. One side keeps making their points. And the other does the same; almost as if repeating the points (rather than actually engaging the other side) will somehow bend truth in one direction or another.
So here’s a question: who has had their perspective changed/altered/challenged by these discussions? And, if so, how, and why?
Now that’s something I’d be interesting in hearing. Maybe this could even be the subject be a new thread?



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RJS

posted February 12, 2010 at 5:48 pm


pds (#59)
I don’t understand this comment. Are you suggesting that DNA has an abstract meaning beyond its function to store the information required to assemble proteins, that there is a deeper significance to the sequence of nucleotides?



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Unaplogetic Catholic

posted February 12, 2010 at 7:22 pm


“So here’s a question: who has had their perspective changed/altered/challenged by these discussions? And, if so, how, and why?”
Good question. I have. I read Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box in about 1999. The theses of the book was that certain biological features coudl not have evolved–they must have been designed by an intelligence. Obviously that intelligentce was (most likely)God. After all, how many superpowerful beings capable of mainupulating an entire planet’s ecology were there? It also helped that ID was consistent with my own religous beliefs and offeered scietific support for those views.
A practical scientific demonstration of God’s existence! How cool is that? How astounding is that? Almost too good to be true!
I then read every thing online and in print on evolution, genetics and biology and found out that—it WAS too good to be true. Real biologists had alaredy considered and demolished Behe’s arguments.
It turns out that I had been misled. The ID proponents were simply rehashing the same creationist arguments that had been around for years. Then I observed that the vast majority of the ID movement was not acting in good faith…the deception was both intentional and widespread. Scitetific evidece was routinely distorted and scientists were “quote-mined” out of context to appear to say the opposite of what they meant. ID proponents “dodge” pointed questions put to them and refuse to offer facts to support their positions and refuse to say what they mean. The entire ID campaign is a form of propaganda. It has an initial appeal and sounds “reasonable” to those who are unfamilair with the issues.
I became familiar with the issues and the science by both online and offline reading. It’s been an interesting process and I’ve learned a lot. But I learned through that process and changed my views.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted February 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm


RJS (#49), thanks for the clarification. You write:
“But if there are only a few kinds of design patterns available, of course the cell will resemble the logical patterns in computer programming on this gross scale. It couldn’t avoid it and still function.
This is similar to an argument that a camera is intelligently designed to uses a lens to produce an image, an eye also uses a lens to produce an image, therefore the similarity between the eye and a camera is evidence for intelligent design. But there are only a limited number of ways to produce an image – the laws of physics (ray optics) demand that a lens will be used.”
You seem to be saying that, given the laws of physics, there are only one or a few ways which matter could be arranged to function as a lens to produce an image. As a result, it is not surprising that a camera, which is designed to function as a lens to produce an image, resembles an eye. Given the laws of physics, in other words, the possible number of ways that matter could be arranged to perform a given function is small when compared to the number of ways that matter could be arranged. So, a designer arranging a camera to function as a lens to produce an image would have to use an arrangement similar to an eye due to the laws of physics.
I guess I fail to understand how an argument of this sort works as an objection to ID. I find this objection odd because it is relying on the same premise which Meyer is trying to illustrate with his analogy of a combination lock. The possible number of ways a combination lock could be arranged to perform a function (opening) is small when compared to the number of ways it could be arranged in general. In other words, all but one combination will function to open the lock. The other combinations will not work given that the combination is set to a certain sequence (or arrangement). If the combination is set so that only a specific sequence (or arrangement) enables the lock to function (or open), then there must be an explanation for how that sequence gets put into place to open the lock. Similarly, if the laws of physics are such that only one or a few specific arrangements of matter enable it to function as a lens to produce an image, then there must be an explanation for how that arrangement becomes the one put in place as opposed to the many other possible arrangements that it could have been in. Where does the arrangement of the parts which function as a lens to produce an image originate?
In cameras, that arrangement is due to intelligent design. We know this from experience. Camera-makers arrange the parts to function as a lens and not in other ways. In eyes, there is a disupte as to where this arrangement of parts originates. The argument to intelligent design is that because there are only a few ways to arrange parts to function as a lens, and because we know intelligence does this already, the best explanation (not a proof) for such an arrangement is a designing intelligence rather than an undirected natural process. This is a simple ID argument.



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 2:19 am


No Sacred Frenzy (66), Intelligent Design is NOT the “best explanation” because it ‘explains’ next to nothing.
It does not explain when the eye developed, in what lifeforms it developed in, nor the mechanism for the development.
Further it does not explain a wealth of detail, like the fact that octupus and vertebrate eyes are virtually identical, except that the octopus eye lacks a blindspot. Why would a designer give a more imperfect design to the more complex lifeform and a more perfect design to a simpler? ID doesn’t explain this, convergent evolution does.
The ONLY thing about the eye that ID ‘explains’ is why it looks (to some people) as though it was designed: ‘I think it looks designed therefore I think it is designed’. Except even here it runs into problems. Pit eyes and compound eyes do not resemble any known human camera designs.
I would strongly suggest that you inform yourself on Lipton’s work on the ‘Inference to the Best Explanation’ before making such ill-founded claims.



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 2:55 am


The following, relevant comment was made in response to Barr’s dissection of ID ( http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/02/the-end-of-intelligent-design ). I think it’s relevant to this discussion
“From the scientific end, the fundamental problem is that the proposed means for looking for design don’t work, either because the test for design is flawed or because the necessary data are unavailable. Irreducible complexity, specified complexity, etc. are not based on a systematic consideration of known ‘designed’ and ‘undesigned’ objects, nor are they based on fields where such questions are actually investigated (e.g., the past few months I have been helping with an achaeology dig, having to decide whether a particular rock is an artifact or just a rock). Rather, they sound rather like an attempt to describe complex biochemical systems and define them as designed.” — David Campbell



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 2:59 am


I would also point out that Barr’s statement that “The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists.” is EXACTLY the point I was attempting to make (@67) to Sacred Frenzy.



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pds

posted February 13, 2010 at 7:49 am


http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/
RJS #64,
No, Isaac insists that it does not, and thinks this distinction kills Meyer’s argument. I am saying none of us knows this. It is not clear to me what Isaac means by “abstract meaning,” and what this could be in the context of DNA.
In any case, his claim that this distinction defeats Meyer’s argument is wrong. It has nothing to do with the aspect of DNA to which Meyer is referring.



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RJS

posted February 13, 2010 at 7:50 am


Sacred Frenzy (#66),
I am not saying that the laws of physics provide an objection to the idea of intelligent design. As a matter of fact I am not trying to disprove design at all. I am trying to evaluate specific claims purporting to find empirical evidence for design.
I think we see evidence for the wonder and glory of God’s design all around us – but I don’t think that this means that we find evidence that God worked outside of his natural mechanism to produce what we see.
So – both a mountain and a pyramid have a big base and a small tip. The pyramid is designed by human intelligence – does this mean that the mountain is intelligently designed by God (or an arbitrary unknown designer)? This is a particularly simple example, and Meyer’s is a bit more detailed, but the root argument by analogy with respect to “the functional logic of information storage and processing” is the same. This is what I find less than compelling in #2 in the post.
A mountain landscape displays the wonder and glory of God and sets me in awe of the creator, but the processes used to produce it are the natural processes investigated in the variety of relevant sciences, not miraculous intervention.
Likewise in the cell logic and processing, elegant as it is, contains no extraordinary evidence for design.



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pds

posted February 13, 2010 at 7:55 am


http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/
Sacred Frenzy #66,
I agree. I find RJS’s objection very odd indeed. And not at all convincing.



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RJS

posted February 13, 2010 at 8:30 am


pds,
If we found a hidden message, an abstract meaning, in the DNA that went beyond its functional significance – that would be evidence for design. So I’ve heard of authors who will include a message in the first word of the sentences in a paragraph. This is “design.” Not the only kind of design of course.
The question here though is a bit different isn’t it? Meyer suggests that the functional specificity in DNA is evidence for design. Isaac suggests that any system capable of replication and “survival” must contain functionally specific information. Therefore the presence of functionally specific information is a neutral fact in the discussion of design it neither argues for or against the presence of design. I would suggest that the lens in an image producing system is also neutral – it neither argues for or against design.



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sdp

posted February 13, 2010 at 9:30 am


The notion of “specified information” is not just a phantom. Dawkins himself uses the term when discussing the Lenski bacteriological experiments in “Greatest Show on Earth”.
The tricky bit about “specificity” is that it requires an understanding of “meaning”. That is, as Hrafn correctly points out, specificity depends on *somebody’s interpretation* of it. This is related to what the philosophers of mind call “intentionality” (pointing to something beyond oneself). The reason that this element is problematic in the context of science is that science attempts to abstract *any* first-person (i.e., “subjective”) thinking away, in order to focus on third-person (i.e., “objective”) mechanism. Because ID invokes “meaning” as part of its argument, some folk feel justified in dismissing ID. This is a mistake.
The difficulty is that there is no science without intentionality. Without conferred meaning, there is no rationality. Without conferred meaning, there is no discussion, no investigation, no experiment, and no language. Intentionality isn’t going away any time soon (in spite of eliminativistic attempts).
Meyer’s unspoken premise (as RJS points out) is that “OUR meaning” is “THE meaning”. RJS has it that the fact that this premise has no support undermines the entire position. Not really. Meaning and intentionality requires a source, a “final cause” (recursion alert for those who understand the reference). Meaning doesn’t just “happen”. To say that “meaning is emergent on computation” is no less a leap of faith than to say that “In the beginning was the Word”.
So the questions boils down to these: Where did the universe come from? Where did life come from? Where did rationality come from? These are, of course, the three “creation” events from Genesis 1. These questions are also strongly represented in the list of 125 “big unanswered” scientific questions published in Science a few years back. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/sciext/125th/ ) Call that a coincidence if you like.
Cosmologists agree that we have no good answer to “Where did the universe come from?” — multiverses are a “push” not an “explanation”. Biologists agree that we have no good answer to “Where did life come from?” — (if you don’t believe this, go collect your money at http://www.lifeorigin.org/ ). Philosophers agree that we have no good answer to “Where did rationality come from?”
Gaps? Not in the historic sense of the word. Traditional gaps narrow as they are examined carefully. These three “gaps” are actually *growing* the more carefully that they are examined.
And so it is that folks don’t choose their position on the basis of the evidence. Rather, folks choose to believe either “THE meaning is a trick of inevitability” (and then RJS’ position is convincing) or folks choose to believe “THE meaning is one that has a Source to Whom I can connect” — since meaning is subjective, its Source must be Subject — (and then Meyer’s position is convincing).
regards, sdp



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pds

posted February 13, 2010 at 11:18 am


http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/
RJS,
I see the point you are making, but all it does is this: It reminds us that the “apparent design” might be “fake design.” It reminds us that we need to ask, “Is the strong appearance of design in DNA and the origin of life “real design” or “fake design”? But we already know we have to ask that question. Your point does not answer the question or defeat the design inference.
To defeat the design inference, you have to show a plausible non-design alternative explanation. No one is even close, and the problem is getting bigger and bigger.
But it remains possible that we might find a plausible non-design alternative explanation in the future. That’s why it is a strong design inference, and not a “conclusion” or “proof.”



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Sacred Frenzy

posted February 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm


RJS (#71) writes:
“A mountain landscape displays the wonder and glory of God and sets me in awe of the creator, but the processes used to produce it are the natural processes investigated in the variety of relevant sciences, not miraculous intervention.”
I agree. When I go to Yosemite, I am awe of the Creator, yet I acknowledge that undirected natural processes are what produced Half Dome. When I go to Mount Rushmore, though, the complexity and specificity points toward intelligent design and away from undirected natural processes as the explanation for the faces.
So the question is whether the elegant functional complexity and specificity of the cell is more like Mount Rushmore or more like Half Dome. So when you say that “the presence of functionally specific information is a neutral fact in the discussion of design it neither argues for or against the presence of design” (#73), I’m again puzzled because it is this fact that both sides are trying to find a causally adequate explanation for. How did the functionally specific information come into the “just right” arrangement among so many possible non-functional arrangements?



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm


SDP (74):
1) Please quote where Dawkins makes this claim (with page and edition) — as it turns up in neither a Google Book nor an Amazon text search.
2) If you want subjective, then please go to the Fine Arts or Music departments, where personal opinions matter. There they will be interested in your personal opinion as to whether an abstract painting has “meaning”. Science unfortunately does not care, and information theory does not distinguish information according to whether it has meaning or not.
3) Who is ‘carefully examining’ this purported bunch of gaps? Certainly not the ID proponents — whose work has been pervasively careless and slipshod. And it is not the gaps that are growing, merely the volume of verbiage purporting their existence.



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm


PDS (75):
“Strong appearance” would appear to be entirely in the eye of the beholder. To me it is a very weak ‘appearance’.



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Sacred Frenzy (76):
Mount Rushmore:
Who: Gutzon Borglum and a few hundred miners, sculptors, and rock climbers
When: 1927-1941
How: dynamite, jackhammering, and chiselling
Why: to increase tourism in the Black Hills
DNA:
Who: an unknown designer
When: unknown
How: unknown
Why: unknown
I fail to see the analogy.



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 12:57 pm


RE Dawkins & Specified Information:
The one hit on this term I could find in Dawkins work was from ‘The new encyclopedia of unbelief’ which he co-authored, which listed “complex specified information” as one of Dembski’s concepts that had been “largely ignored by mainstream science” and “repudiated by a number of experts in pertinent fields (such as information theory…)”. This does not suggest that Dawkins accepts specified information as having any validity.



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pds

posted February 13, 2010 at 1:47 pm


The Design Spectrum
Hrafn #79,
My version:
Mount Rushmore:
Who: Gutzon Borglum and a few hundred miners, sculptors, and rock climbers
When: 1927-1941
How: dynamite, jackhammering, and chiselling
Why: to increase tourism in the Black Hills
(taking your word for it)
DNA:
Who: The design inference leads to other inferences outside the realm of science. The designer is most likely an amazing, creative being far above my own abilities, someone I want to get to know, someone about whom I want to find out more.
When: 3.8 billion years ago, or so it seems now; more to explore
How: Fascinating domain of on-going scientific study
Why: Generally when someone designs something amazing, she does it for a reason, a purpose, a goal. This inference spurs me on to figure out the details. Could the designer have revealed himself and details as to “why” in some other way? The designer of such an amazing language like DNA is most likely not silent. We might even give him the nickname “Logos” until we figure out who he is . . .



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Sacred Frenzy

posted February 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm


Hrafn (#79),
I fail to see the analogy as well. I also fail to see any mention of specified complexity in your summary, which is where the analogy would be, falling under a question of “What?”.
The “What?” for DNA (specified complexity) is analogous to…
The “What?” for Mount Rushmore (specified complexity).
See also the “What?” for the Rosetta Stone (specified complexity) and contrast these with Half Dome, where there is no specified complexity.



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sdp

posted February 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm


Hrafn (77)
1) Please quote where Dawkins makes this claim
Claim? What are you talking about? Dawkins makes reference to “specificity”. Dawkins talks about “information”. …?
2) Science unfortunately does not care, and information theory does not distinguish information according to whether it has meaning or not.
Since you have so little regard for meaning, can you explain why anyone should actually pay attention to what you wrote? Were you actually making a point? Did your post have a *meaning*? ;-)
3) And it is not the gaps that are growing.
Do your homework, then come back and document how any of these three gaps is narrowing. Take your time. We’ll be patient.



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RJS

posted February 13, 2010 at 6:44 pm


sdp,
On your first point – I have not read Dawkins’s book the Greatest Show on Earth – and I couldn’t get all of the pages (117-131) on Lenksi from the Amazon preview, so I am not sure of the context of the Dawkins use of the terms.
On your third point – Don’t be silly – the gaps are not growing, and we know much more about how to frame these questions – on the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of rationality than ever before. Whether the gaps will ever close …that isn’t clear.
There are no good scientific answers for the origin of the universe, and I rather expect that if there ever is it will be rather esoteric and difficult to “prove.” There are good scientific answers for the trajectory of our universe post-origin, and we know much more about the framing of the problem. But the question of the origin of the universe is of only minor importance in the science/faith discussion.
The origin of life is also not solved. I don’t really care if abiogenesis is demonstrated or not, although I rather expect that this will have a scientific answer some day. But the nature of the problem is much better defined and the realm of potential solutions likewise. The “gap” is much smaller and shrinking.
I actually think that the origin of rationality and or consciousness is the hardest question of the lot – and I am not sure there will be a “solution” without some dramatic new insight – a revolution. But even here the gap is shrinking and the nature of our understanding of the relationship between mind and brain is allowing a much better formulation of the question, and a better understanding of why it is a hard question.



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RJS

posted February 13, 2010 at 7:00 pm


sdp,
On your second point – which is the most interesting of the three.
Yes, but…
I have no quarrel with the idea that the meaning of life is one that has a source to whom I connect. I have no quarrel with a “first cause” or a designed universe. So in an abstract sense I have no quarrel with Meyer’s base premise that the elegance of the mechanisms of the cell point to a designer. I have no quarrel with an effort to point out meaning and purpose.
I am a theist – and a Christian, one who still likes the term evangelical to describe my theological position. I think that the God created the world intelligently and for a purpose. And – I think that John 1 is correct – In the beginning was the Word, … All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us …
But Meyer’s claim goes way beyond this. And this is where I begin to have real problems with his premise. As far as I can see, he is not satisfied with meaning and purpose. He wishes to demonstrate that the biological nature of the world requires “miraculous intervention” and that the “specified information content” in the DNA demonstrates this. His arguments simply don’t stand up to examination. I am trying to explain why I come to this conclusion.



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RJS

posted February 13, 2010 at 7:39 pm


Sacred Frenzy, pds, hrafn, …
Suppose you were digging in the desert and you came across a stone with a random doodling pattern containing no letters, no pictures, but a combination of sharp edges and waves and curls etc. cut in grooves with sharp edges. Would you assume that it was produced by an intelligent being – a human, or would you assume that it came about by natural unassisted process?
I don’t think that matching an external target and carrying information is either necessary or sufficient for a design inference. The letters on the rosetta stone and the faces on Mount Rushmore lead to a conclusion of design because the atoms in rocks don’t arrange themselves with sharp edges and curves and features of the sort observed. A page in a book – even if it contained nothing but random gibberish would shout “design” because ink doesn’t get on paper in that fashion naturally. A rock with symbols randomly constructed and engraved would shout design whether the “text” contained information or not. The “specified complexity” that shouts design first off is not in the information.
The first thing we need to do is to dump all of these analogies and look at the problem at hand – life, the cell, and the information systems in the cell.



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sdp

posted February 13, 2010 at 8:01 pm


Hi RJS,
I was not at all being silly when I said that the gaps are growing. In each of these three areas, the more we know, the more we know how much we do not know. “How much we don’t know” is a measure of gap size. Therefore, the more we examine these areas, the bigger the gaps get.
Question-framing, paper-publishing, and explanation-construction are three very different things. Let’s keep them from being confused.
In terms of neuroscience, “our understanding of the relationship between mind and brain” is a few years behind “our understanding of the relationship between genotype and phenotype”. And just as we thought we would know very much more on the latter topic at this stage (see, for example, http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14742737 ), I predict that in the not-too-distant future honest neuroscientists will come to admit that they were over-optimistic. We’re still waiting for that “dramatic new insight” you mention.
But it seems that your arguments have their own assumption on the level with Meyer’s “our meaning is the meaning”: you seem to assume that “there is no meaning in inevitability”. What makes you believe this?
Three things to compare:
- Observed: 40 trillion bacteria bred in the Lenski experiments. Observed evolution: a specific-two-mutation adaptation under enormous environmental pressure.
- Observed: 50 billion humans in the last 2500 years. Observed evolution: none that we know of. Plutarch’s “Lives” document men no different intellectually and behaviorally than moderns.
- Hypothesized: 50 billion pre-humans in the last 5 million years. Hypothesized evolution: everything sufficient to develop Homo sapiens from a Homo-sapien-Pan-troglodyte-common-ancestor: language, rationality, art, morality, religion, self-consciousness, accounting for a divergence of 150 bps (including indels). About those indels, Britten writes: “complex processes, presumably involving repeated sequences and possible conversion events, may occur that will require detailed study to understand”. About the adaptations, Hahn writes: “Humans evolved their cognitive abilities not due to a few accidental mutations, but rather from an enormous number of mutations acquired through exceptionally intense selection favoring more complex cognitive abilities. Human evolution is, in fact, a privileged process because it involves a large number of mutations in a large number of genes?. To accomplish so much in so little evolutionary time?requires a selective process that is perhaps categorically different from the typical processes of acquiring new biological traits.”
Please tell me: what accounts for this remarkable comparison, and to what do we attribute this “categorically different… process”?



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sdp

posted February 13, 2010 at 8:09 pm


sorry about the typo – that should have been “150 million bps”.



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RJS

posted February 13, 2010 at 8:49 pm


sdp,
Your comment about the gap growing is a misdirection. We certainly understand that the problems are much more complex than envisioned – but this is not a growing gap, but a manifestation of a shrinking gap.
70 years ago, 50 years ago people were predicting much which hasn’t come to pass and couldn’t fathom much that has (i.e. no household helicopters, but computers the size of a book doing more than anyone had imagined). In much of science, especially biology, we didn’t even know the right questions to ask – to some extent we still don’t. The article you link in The Economist “The looming crisis in human genetics” is premium content – so I don’t know what the argument is to have any basis for comment. If the point is that scientists are overly optimistic about how fast the puzzles will be solved – that is no surprise. The fact that new knowledge often reveals a previously unsuspected complexity is part, but only part, of the reason. Occasionally things move faster than expected – but more often there are unexpected twists and turns. The other part of the problem is the politics required to get money and the ego of many scientists (especially many of those best at getting money).
I have no context to discuss your “three things to compare” – could you tell me where this discussion is from?
Finally – I don’t understand what you mean when you say that I assume “there is no meaning in inevitability”.



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sdp

posted February 13, 2010 at 10:09 pm


rjs,
Hardly misdirection. If I use the words in ways that you would prefer that the words not be used, there are more accurate (and more charitable) descriptions of that disconnect.
(Sorry about “premium content” — it was freely available when I delicious-ed it)
Many years ago when I was doing my undergraduate degree, a fellow-student expressed a peculiar view of knowledge. As far as he was concerned, every published paper and every published book represented an incremental advance in human knowledge. Moreover, his model had it that there was a finite amount of knowledge to be gained about the universe. On his model, the exponentially growing scientific literature would mean that we would suddenly come to that finite end quite abruptly… and there would be nothing else to know. It is on such patently absurd models of knowledge that the notion that these gaps are narrowing depends.
The “three things” are widely available.
The Lenski experiments are well-documented in a number of places. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._coli_long-term_evolution_experiment
Plutarch is public domain, and the accumulated human population in the last 2500 years is easily derived from available data http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/worldhis.html
The common model of pre-human evolution is also widely available and discussed. That it involves roughly the same number of organisms as there have been humans in the last 2500 years is a little-known fact, but still a fact.
In your riff on Meyer’s combination lock, you use the fact that the combination is set on the basis of randomness to illustrate the difference between the specificity known to the lecturer (i.e., human intervention), and the specificity derived from randomness (i.e., no human intervention). The two situations are not quite as different as all that. In the one, the lecturer communicates (i.e., transmits meaning) to the student in order for him to open the lock. In the other, the student interprets (i.e., infers meaning) the randomly-chosen slips of paper to set and hence open the lock.
When you say “it is not possible to construct a convincing design argument when the phenomenon is inevitable” this presupposes that there can be no design in inevitability, does it not? Or do you simply mean that inevitability precludes *arguing* about design (whether or not it participated in that inevitability)?



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 10:53 pm


SDP (83):
1) An Amazon text search turned up only two uses of ?specificity? ? neither of them in the context of Lenski or information. By ?claim? I meant where ?Dawkins himself uses the term when discussing the Lenski bacteriological experiments?.
2) I DID NOT state that I “have so little regard for meaning”. In fact I listed two fields where “meaning” has a legitimate place. It is both RUDE and DISHONEST of you to caracature my point rather than addressing it. Science is concerned with MECHANISMS NOT “MEANING”. Given that your response does not address my point it is itself a meaningless non sequitor.
3) You have not presented any substantiation that any gaps are growing. Further, the main potential basis of such a claim would appear to be the claims of a trio (Behe, Dembski & Meyer) who (i) have failed to present their claims for legitimate, rigorous peer review & (ii) have had their claims comprehensively rebutted by recognised experts in the fields that they recklessly ventured into.
SDP (87):
You are incorrect that we have no observed evolution in humans. The mutation for lactose tolerance is one observed form of recent evolution, due to evolutionary pressures created by pastoral lifestyles in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I’m fairly sure that there have been others.



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 11:00 pm


Sacred Frenzy (82)
Yes, I have failed to pay attention to Dembski’s Magic Pixie Dust (aka specified information), for reasons that should be blatantly obvious from my post #3.
But now that you mention it Mount Rushmore and DNA do have the following commonalities:
1) nobody has even attempted to give a meaningful ‘specification’ for them; and
2) nobody has even attempted a meaningful calculation of their ‘specified information’
Unfortunately, they share these properties with EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE, so it really isn’t appropriate to draw any meaning from them.



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RJS

posted February 13, 2010 at 11:08 pm


sdp,
My variation on Meyer’s lock demonstration wasn’t meant to refute design – it was meant to show that Meyer’s demonstration conveys the wrong impression to many who read it and that there are variations that must be considered. In fact, all my twist does is demonstrate that the probability arguments that consider the possible variations of DNA and the odds of hitting a current active sequence at random are a misstatement of the real problem. The “twist” displaces consideration of design from the DNA sequence to the complexity of the cell.



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RJS

posted February 13, 2010 at 11:18 pm


Gaps are narrowing because problems and puzzles are being solved – they are growing because we realize more about the true magnitude of some of the problems that still need to be solved. I will grant both of these.
On one level it is a meaningless distinction – on another level it is part of the rhetoric game – Dawkins will assert (with calm confidence) that the gaps have narrowed so much we only need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Many others will assert that the new puzzles loom so large that even a path forward is in doubt.
Neither position is correct.



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Hrafn

posted February 13, 2010 at 11:41 pm


RJS (86):
I have no problem with such inferences of design as long as it is acknowledged that (i) such inferences are scientifically informal (being based essentially on human patter recognition), (ii) that they have a reasonable probability of false positives in some circumstances (due to humanity’s hypertrophied predeliction towards pattern recognition) & (iii) would be considerably more problematical in areas where the purported artefact did not match already-known forms of manufacture. As such, they are good enough for ordinary claims, but highly problematical for extraordinary ones.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 12:10 am


RJS (94):
I would point out that the ‘gaps’ are getting farther and farther away — from the Dawn of Civilisation to the dawn of the Earth. From the Origin of Species to the origin of the earliest lifeforms. From the solar system to far galaxies.
Also, I think calling idenitfying gaps in our knowledge of things-that-we-previously-didn’t-know-ANYTHING-about as some ‘growth of gaps’ to be meaningless — akin to the claim that every new find of a transitional fossil means that there are now TWO ‘missing links’, where previously there was only one. Both claims are only true at a very trivial and superficial level, but really offer no insight into the progress of scientific knowledge. Going from knowing nothing to knowing something-but-not-everything is closing a gap, not opening it, by any meaningful definition.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 12:26 am


Expanding on my point (#77:2 & #91:2), science does not deal in “meaning” because meaning is not quantifiable, and science deals solely with the quantifiable. Further, information theory treats meaningful information (e.g. a recording of a ballad) no different to information without real meaning (e.g. a recording of waves lapping on a shore). Questions of meaning lie in the Arts (which can in fact distinguish the difference in meaning between my two examples) not the Sciences.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted February 14, 2010 at 2:22 am


Hrafn (#92),
You are certainly within your rights to reject a concept you believe to be inadequate. However, when you make a strawman argument (as in #79) and then poison the well by referring to specified information as “Dembski’s Magic Pixie Dust”, then I simply refuse to interact with you any further. Ridicule and misrepresentation are not conducive to worthwhile interaction.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 3:15 am


Sacred Frenzy (98):
1) I fully justified the metaphor of “magic pixie dust” for ‘specified information’ way back in #3, LONG before you entered this conversation. If you choose to offer a debunked claim as some form of clincher, then you cannot expect to be taken seriously. I would further point out that ‘complex specified information’ has been debunked for many many years — so there’s no “well” left to ‘poison’.
2) Your claim of an analogy between Mount Rushmore and cells/DNA provided no rationale — and it is impossible to ‘strawman’ a rationale that does not exist. I did not offer a ‘strawman’ but merely listed a number of clear differences rendering your analogy inappropriate.
3) Both concept and analogy are worthless, and there is no “misrepresentation” in identifying them as such. Both are ridiculous, and I make no bones about ridiculing them. Not all opinions are created equal — some are just plain bad, and some are ‘not even wrong’ (being too badly formulated to even allow disproof).
4) I take your ‘refusal to interact with me’ to merely be saying ‘la la la, I can’t hear you’ to my cogent evisceration of your feeble points.



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sdp

posted February 14, 2010 at 6:48 am


Hrafn (91):
’2) you … caracature [sic] my point rather than addressing it. Science is concerned with MECHANISMS NOT “MEANING”.’
On the contrary: my response highlights your inability to appreciate that science doesn’t even get off the ground without “MEANING”. I’m sorry if this point is too subtle for you.
’3) You have not presented any substantiation that any gaps are growing.’
And you have not presented any substantiation that these gaps are narrowing. So we’re even ;-) By the way, which High Priest of Information Theory decreed that its Sacred Canon was closed? I don’t recall seeing “Thou shalt not invoke meaning in the context of information” in Shannon’s work.
“You are incorrect that we have no observed evolution in humans. The mutation for lactose tolerance is one observed form of recent evolution, due to evolutionary pressures created by pastoral lifestyles in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I’m fairly sure that there have been others.”
The point is the comparison. Are you really willing to stack lactose tolerance and “others you are fairly sure of” against the divergence between the chimpanzee and human? Based on the same number of organisms (and fixation considerations won’t make *that* much difference), why are there wildly different in evolution between these two cases?



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RJS

posted February 14, 2010 at 7:19 am


hrafn, sdp,
If you continue to resort to ridicule and condescension the conversation will go nowhere. Use of terms like “pixie dust” and other forms of putdowns simply poison the well. Keep it civil like conversation over coffee with someone you need or want to remain friends with.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 7:39 am


SDP (100):
1) “you have so little regard for meaning” = caricature of my viewpoint. I didn’t say that meaning was without value, merely that meaning generally is not part of science.
2) “science doesn’t even get off the ground without ‘MEANING’” = UNSUBSTANTIATED assertion. If you want the meaning of life, go to the Philosophy Department. If you want the meaning of a Picasso painting then go to the Fine Arts (or Art History) Department. If you want the meaning of a Beethoven symphony, then go to the Music Department. You have not given EVEN ONE example of where ‘subjective meaning’ is the legitimate province of study of Science.
3) I repeat my earlier, unrebbuted, point that Science has no way of measuring meaning, and thus cannot include it in its workings.
3) I have already given an answer to the question of the mythical-growing gaps @96. I don’t see any point in wasting more time on this unsubstantiated claim.
4) “By the way, which High Priest of Information Theory decreed that its Sacred Canon was closed? I don’t recall seeing ‘Thou shalt not invoke meaning in the context of information’ in Shannon’s work.” I suggest you familiarise yourself with the definition of Shannon Information. A (meaningless) random string of binary bits has higher Shannon Information than the (meaningful) morse code for SOS (dot-dot-dot-dash-dash-dash-dot-dot-dot), because the latter follows a pattern and can thus be compressed.
5) Humanity’s ancestors split off from chimpanzees 7 million years ago. Pastoralism was invented few thousand years ago. It is therefore unreasonable to expect an equal amount of evolution from the latter as from the former. My point was that humanity continues to evolve — IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION OF YOUR CLAIM (“Observed evolution: none that we know of”).



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RJS

posted February 14, 2010 at 7:58 am


sdp,
Your comment about the “three things” being widely available was unhelpful and structured as a putdown to show your superiority. This is the kind of thing that can destroy conversation.
With respect to Lenski’s experiments – I am (and was) familiar with them. They are interesting – but only shed light on a very small piece of the total problem.
With respect to Plutarch – I’ve read Plutarch’s Lives (have a copy on my book shelf), but your argument can go back further. The ancient Sumerian cuniform texts are fascinating and make the same kinds of points. I was particularly intrigued by one where a schoolboy describes his day (and being whipped by the teacher). There has been modification and selection but no significant change over last many thousands of years.
On your point about human evolution – the first thing I did after reading your comment was to look up Britten and his work, and read through abstracts of several of his papers to try to get a context for your point. I couldn’t find your reference to Hahn because the name is far too common in the database. But I am still not quite sure of the point you are trying to make. I was asking for clarification of your point.
There are two aspects to the discussion of human evolution – history and mechanism. History is “relatively” easy to investigate these days – and while it is not an open book there is much that is known and continuing to be better understood. We can look at what happened with a good bit of confidence.
With respect to the mechanism of change – the processes that brought about the history observed, much less is understood. It is clear that it is not as simple as had been generally supposed 20 or 50 years ago, and nowhere near as clear as “common knowledge” supposes.
Evolutionary process is a fascinating concept – but it is not simply accumulation of gradual change that scales with population size. It is more like an exploration of the space of possibility where a change can open up a whole new area of the space – a new vista.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 8:00 am


RJS (101):
I defined “pixie dust” way back in #3 as “something whose existence is in doubt, is ill-defined, not measurable, but for which miraculous properties have been purported.”
If anybody found the definition inaccurate or the metaphor inapt, then they probably should have argued the point then. But if you wish to argue either issue now, then I’d be happy to do so.
I do not however accept that it is “poison[ing] the well”. The well is already as dead as a doornail (and pretending otherwise would appear to be evoking the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch). Specified information has no more scientific status than Flood Geology, Geocentricity, Flat Earthism, Astrology, Time Cube, or Homeopathy — that is to say, none at all. I see no reason to pretend otherwise — particularly as I went to the trouble (@3) of presenting part of the reason why it is bunk.
Maybe ‘vampire’ is a better metaphor for it, because it seems that no matter how often, or in how much detail, you explain why it is bunk, somebody will always come along and say something like ‘but what about specified information’ or ‘you didn’t account for specified information in your response’. How to you account for something that DOES NOT EXIST? “Pixie dust” would appear to be the most concise response, but if you prefer, I can repeat my post @3 verbatim each time somebody brings up specified information again.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 8:01 am


(“Vampire” as in ‘repeatedly rising from the dead’)



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sdp

posted February 14, 2010 at 8:25 am


RJS (103):
I’m sorry that my misunderstanding of your request for clarification resulted in a misunderstanding of my attempt. (No putdown was intended)
And I agree with your comments.



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sdp

posted February 14, 2010 at 8:35 am


Hrafn (103):
I’m quite familiar with Shannon’s work (thanks). Shannon opened Information Theory. My question was “who decreed the Sacred Canon of Information Theory to be closed?”
And you continue to miss the point of my claim with respect to meaning and science. Meaning is what humans deal with all the time. You layer your subjective interpretation onto the words that I write. You layer your subjective interpretation onto scientific papers that you read. You layer subjective interpretation onto *everything*. Subjective interpretation is the *conduit* for every empirical observation. The fact that human being can see two objects drop from a tower and conclude “heavy objects and light objects fall at approximately the same rate toward the earth’s surface” would not happen at all if it were not for the *unavoidable* mechanism of meaning-generation that humans invoke *all the time*.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 8:48 am


SDP (107):
Given that you seem to be the only person aware that such a ‘decree’ exists (I never mentioned one), then I must suppose that you “decreed” it. MY point was merely that Information Theory does not deal with the “meaning” of information (probably because it can’t measure it, as I have already pointed out).
Please feel free to continue arguing with yourself. But I would appreciate it if you didn’t misrepresent this as arguing with me.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 9:06 am


SDP (108):
Yes, science attempts to abstract explanations (which can be considered, at a stretch, to be ‘meanings’) of the natural world. It does not however deal with evaluating how ‘meaningful’ human artefacts (or purported analogues to them) are, again (as I said above) because it has no measure of ‘meaningfulness’.
You would appear to be conflating two completely different meanings of ‘meaning’.
I would further point out that there is nothing “subjective” about the statement “heavy objects and light objects fall at approximately the same rate toward the earth’s surface”.



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sdp

posted February 14, 2010 at 9:17 am


Hrafn (109):
Actually, you are guilty of attempting to make a distinction that does not exist. Meaning-generation and subjectivity are two sides to the same coin.
Just because Shannon never dealt with meaning does not mean that information theory cannot ever be expanded to account for it. Nor does it mean that meaning is a subject that isn’t ripe for scientific inquiry. Perhaps you could do the world a favor by introducing a scientific theory or meaningfulness.
Incidentally, you weren’t seriously suggesting that “time” (i.e., 7 million vs. a few thousand years) is really a better measure of “evolutionary opportunity” than “number of organisms” (i.e., 50 billion vs. 50 billion) were you?



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sdp

posted February 14, 2010 at 10:26 am


Hrafn (3):
“In the works of Fellini, a predominant concept is the distinction between creation and destruction.”
Your dismissal of this as meaningless is quite inaccurate. Do you have any idea of how many programmer-hours of work were put into the Random PoMo essay generator? These hours were put there *by design* to explicitly mimic thoughtful essays. 3/10 for creativity.
“54696d6520616e642074696465207761697420666f72206e6f206d616e2e”
Very good: you have established that specified information can exist in forms that we have difficulty to detect. No surprise there. Certainly no refutation. 2/10 for chutzpah.
Rather than dismiss specified information, you have simply reinforced my point: specificity/meaning depends on the subject. But this does not invalidate it, nor does it preclude serious scientific inquiry. It simply means that it is going to be difficult to handle.



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RJS

posted February 14, 2010 at 11:42 am


sdp,
Your comment #111 – like hrafn’s example both make the point I was trying to make – the significance is not in the specific string of characters, and the specific string of characters – no matter if it hits a target or not – is insufficient basis for a design inference. The most it can do is point to a design in the reality that lies behind the characters. In the case of DNA – the complexity of the cell and the laws of chemistry and physics. In the case of the rosetta stone – there is a meaning in the text, but the design inference here, (and in any artifact) is not based on the meaning or the target, but on the phenomenology of the stone itself.
The phenomenology of the cell and the DNA in the cell does not make a design inference an easy one to defend. It points to the glory and majesty of God – but it doesn’t scream “miracle” in an empirically demonstrable way.
On the other point – the amount of time that went into programming the pomo essay generator, or the similar point Meyer makes that all experiments are designed and therefore point to design in the system they probe…this seems an exercise in missing the point.
I have written simple programs to perform molecular dynamics simulations by integrating Newton’s laws. These simulations allow for a great deal of useful insight into real systems. I have also written simple programs and used more complicated programs to perform quantum chemical calculations. Are you suggesting that the very fact that we can write programs to simulate natural processes is evidence for design in the natural processes themselves?
Meyer at one point in his book makes exactly this suggestion, in a section where he discusses computer based simulations of evolutionary processes.



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sdp

posted February 14, 2010 at 1:22 pm


RJS (112):
What else do you think Kepler (and Einstein, in echo) meant when he said that his mathematical representation of Physics was “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”?



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sdp

posted February 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm


RJS (112):
I’m certain that you don’t think that simulation is evidence *against* design. And I’m certain that you are aware that one can, indeed, simulate design. So while simulation might not imply design, Meyer is certainly correct to warn us that simulation does not preclude it!



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 10:05 pm


SDP:
1) Please quote (with page and edition) exactly where “Dawkins himself uses the term [specified information] when discussing the Lenski bacteriological experiments in ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.”
2) Please cite anywhere where mainstream Information Theory takes any notice whether the information being analysed is meaningful or meaningless.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 10:38 pm


In response to the claims SDP makes in 111, I’d like to add the following question to 115:
3) Given that you have asserted that specified information exists in “54696d6520616e642074696465207761697420666f72206e6f206d616e2e”, please offer a calculation for the amount of specified information in it, and state the result.



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Hrafn

posted February 14, 2010 at 11:10 pm


Further addendum to 115:
3b) Given that you have stated that the random PoMo sentence has meaning, can I take it that you assert that it contains specified information? If so, then please state what the specification that would be the basis for measuring the amount of specified information would be.



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sdp

posted February 15, 2010 at 9:45 am


Hrafn (115):
2) – “Mainstream Information Theory” does not purport to say “everything there is to say about information”. Goodness! The claim is precisely that there needs to be an extension of “Mainstream Information Theory” (hence the “closed canon” question) Shannon would be appalled to discover that his disciples imagine that there is no more to be discovered in Information Theory!
(116 & 117):
A proposal of a research trajectory toward measure of “meaning”:
We know that “meaning” fires different parts of the brain than “Shannon Information”. Suppose we measure the relative firing patterns for a large number of people and define meaning *statistically* (i.e., the median or perhaps 95% quantile or differential neuronal firing). In this way, we can (in principle) measure things like PoMo gibberish (we would see low levels of meaning, derived, of course, from the efforts of the programmers) and octal-streams (to which only the geekiest of individuals would register differential neuronal patterns). Using these kinds of techniques, we could also define (statistically, again) “recognition”. We could see the effects of mother’s voice to infants, lover’s face to adults, etc.
(btw, you ask – and re-ask – a lot of questions for someone who doesn’t seem to want to answer any ;-) )



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Hrafn

posted February 15, 2010 at 11:27 am


SDP (118):
1) You did not even attempt to answer my question about where “Dawkins himself uses the term [specified information] when discussing the Lenski bacteriological experiments in ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.”
2) From your response to my second question, I must assume that “mainstream Information Theory takes [no] notice whether the information being analysed is meaningful or meaningless. As such you, Meyer & Dembski are simply blowing smoke on this issue.
3) Your response to my third question was simple gobbledegook (and a non sequitor besides). From this I assume that, like Meyer and Dembski, you have no idea whatsoever how to formulate a ‘specification’ or calculate ‘specified information’.
From this I conclude that we have no evidence whatsoever that ‘specified information’ has any legitimate existence. I will therefore not entertain any further claims that assume its existence.



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sdp

posted February 15, 2010 at 11:45 am


Hrafn (119):
Once again, I’m disappointed that you appear incapable of understanding what I wrote. And you have made it clear that you weren’t even interested in understanding it: your mind was made up beforehand. Have fun with that.



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Hrafn

posted February 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm


SDP (120):
I “understand” perfectly:
1) Dawkins clearly never said anything of the sort.
2) There is no basis within mainstream Information Theory for your/Meyer’s/Dembski’s claims. You’re all simply making it up as you go along.
3) You clearly have no idea how to formulate a ‘specification’ or calculate ‘specified information’ for the examples you are asserting contain ‘specified information’.
These are the RELEVANT points.
Your claims of ‘decrees’, PoMo ramblings about how everything is subjective and your pseudostatistical ramblings about measuring the meaning of information by “differential neuronal patterns” are UTTERLY IRRELEVANT. I see no reason why I should have any ‘interest’ in “understanding it”.



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Unapologetic Catholic

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:23 am


“You did not even attempt to answer my question about where “Dawkins himself uses the term [specified information] when discussing the Lenski bacteriological experiments in ‘Greatest Show on Earth’”
I have “The Greatest Show…” in front of me and just re-read Dawkins’s description of the Lenski experiments. I don’t find any discussion by Dawkins that comes close to “specified information.”
Maybe you can provide the page reference to substantiate your assertion.



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 2:50 am


On his ‘Good Math Bad Math’ blog, Mark Chu-Carroll rather nicely summarises the point behind my third question to SDP:
“This argument is particularly silly coming from Disco. Many of disco’s arguments go back to the stupidity of Dembski’s “complex specified information”. In all of the years of arguments about CSI, Dembski has never provided an unequivocal definition of CSI. While claiming that it’s a specific, computable quantity, he has never defined it well enough to allow anyone to compute the CSI in any system; and he has never demonstrated a complete computation of CSI. In fact, he can’t possibly do that, because to do it, he would need to stop fudging about what CSI actually is, and the moment he did that, the whole CSI argument can be refuted. Dembski constantly relies on the equivocation in the definition of CSI, so that any time anyone tries to refute it, he can just wave his hands and say “Oh no, you idiot, that isn’t CSI.”
For their arguments, the disco folks continually discuss CSI. They constantly cite it as the primary reason that people should take intelligent design seriously as science. And yet they’ve never managed to actually compute it, or even to actually define it without hedging. But it’s the other guys are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by equivocating over the definition of information.”
http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2010/02/disco_strikes_out_again_casey.php



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 3:14 am


I would further note that Dembski’s claims about his ‘explanatory filter’ have been rebutted in a an article in a prominent, peer-reviewed journal: ‘The advantages of theft over toil: the design inference and arguing from ignorance’, Wilkins, John S, and Wesley R Elsberry, ‘Biology and Philosophy’ 16 (November):711-724. http://www.talkdesign.org/faqs/theftovertoil/theftovertoil.html



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 4:48 am


Anybody under any illusion that there is any life left in ‘specified information’ I would direct to Shallit & Elsberry’s chapter in ‘Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism’ titled ‘Playing Games With Probability: Dembski’s Complex Specified Information’. It concludes:
“The bottom line is that Dembski’s specified complexity or complex specified information is an incoherent concept. It is unworkable, is not well-defined, and does not have the properties he claims for it. Even Dembski himself, in attempting to calculate the specified complexity of various events, uses an inconsistent methodology. Most important, specified complexity does not provide a way to distinguish designed objects from undesigned objects.
Biochemist Russell F. Doolittle (1953) once remarked, ‘The next time you hear creationists railing about the ‘impossibility’ of making a particular protein, whether hemoglobbin or ribonuclease or cytochrome-c, you can smile wryly and know that they are nowhere near a consideration Of the real issues’ (261). That same wry smile might be useful to keep handy when reading Dembski’s claims.”
I particularly like the Doolittle quote — and will have to remember it so I can quote/paraphrase it when I next encounter a creationist ‘it’s statistically impossible’ claim.



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 4:58 am


The Doolittle quote is from ‘Probability and the Origin of Life’ (1983) — which I suspect would be a far more cogent an introduction to this topic than the book currently under discussion.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 7:01 am


Hrafn (124):
Thanks for the good laugh.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 8:52 am


Hrafn:
Let’s start the discussion from a place where we can both agree…
Please tell us what the information content in the phrase
“time and tide wait for no man”
is.
Since you are so concerned with definitions, and coherent quantitative formula, and since you are a disciple of Shannon, this should be a simple matter for you.



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 10:28 am


SDP (128):
1) I have based no argument in this thread on the superiority, or even the existence, of Shannon Information — a concept you yourself brought up and bestowed the status of “Sacred Canon” to (@100).
2) I have not stated that the phrase “time and tide wait for no man” contains Shannon Information, let alone based an argument on this.
THEREFORE CALCULATING THE SHANNON INFORMATION OF THIS PHRASE SUBSTANTIATES NO CLAIM THAT I HAVE MADE.
3) You have (@111) claimed the existence of specified information (in direct contradiction of learned opinion) and stated that “54696d6520616e642074696465207761697420666f72206e6f206d616e2e” contains it.
THEREFORE I AM CHALLENGING YOU TO SUBSTANTIATE YOUR CLAIM BY DEMONSTRATING THAT SPECIFIED INFORMATION IS CALCULABLE.
Failure to do so will be taken as further evidence of both the vacuity of ‘specified information’ and your arguments on the basis of it.
(I also note that you still haven’t substantiated your Dawkins claim.)



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 11:02 am


Hrafn (129):
I’m rising to the challenge, but asking that we start from a shared ground. Please answer the question: what is the (quantifiable) Shannon Information?



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 11:05 am


Here’s the deal: Hrafn is making a big deal about the fact that specified information is difficult (he claims impossible — whatever) to calculate. But if *any* information is difficult to calculate (as I will show as soon as he steps up to the “really simple” question I asked), then his position isn’t nearly as strong as he implies.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 12:07 pm


According to Price, Wise and Frackowiak (in Cerebral Cortex, 1996):
“Consonant letter strings and false fonts do not have stored word associations and did not activate either the left medial extrastriate cortex or the left prefrontal cortex. These results were interpreted as evidence that the left medial extrastriate cortex was activated by legitimate word forms and the left prefrontal region was activated by stimuli with semantic associations.”
In effect, human beings have differential neural activity when they see text with meaning as opposed to text without. If this isn’t proof that “specified information” (i.e., that ‘semantics’) is no phantom, then please explain what it actually demonstrates?



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm


SDP (130 & 131)
1) That Shannon Information is calculable is demonstrated by the fact that this paper (‘An intelligent tool for re-engineering software modularity’, ‘Proceedings of the 13th international conference on Software engineering’, http://www.cs.yorku.ca/course_archive/2003-04/F/6431/ResearchPapers/Arch.pdf ) “estimating the significance of a feature by its Shannon information content”. It is most probably rather difficult and laborious to calculate without specialised software (which I do not possess), but the existence of this paper clearly substantiates that such software exists.
2) I did not make the claim that “*any* information is difficult to calculate” — so the onus is not on me to substantiate it. My arguments work perfectly addequately whether it is “difficult” or not. SDP’s argument however falls over if it cannot be demonstrated that it is at least possible to calculate specified information in some meaningful (i.e. consistent) manner.
3) I am not the only one that claims that it is impossible to calculate specified information, Mark Chu-Carroll and Shallit & Elsberry make the same point. If SDP wants to contradict the LEGITIMATE EXPERTS on this point then THE ONUS IS ON SDP TO SUBSTANTIATE THE CLAIM. As far as I know, no software exists to do assist in this, because Dembski’s attempts at calculation have been too “inconsistent” to turn into an automated process. That’s SDP’s problem, not mine.
Also, given SDP’s Dawkins fiasco, there really doesn’t seem to be any reason to extend further benefit of the doubt.



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 12:45 pm


SDP (132):
“…please explain what it actually demonstrates?”
Given that (as far as I know) Price, Wise and Frackowiak make no mention of specified information and neither Meyer nor Dembski claim specified information to be calculable via “differential neural activity” (nor does the claim appear to be a plausible one), it “actually demonstrates” your tendency to fabricate arguments via spurious non sequitors. This viewpoint is consistent with your apparent blatant misrepresentation of Dawkins.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 12:57 pm


It isn’t plausible to measure meaning via the only known mechanism to measure (i.e., neuronal activity) the only known mechanism to observe (i.e., human mental activity)? Goodness, you are demanding, aren’t you? I guess Hrafn is correct: meaning is pixie dust.
(Incidentally “specified information” is the same as saying “meaning-bearing information” or “functionally specified information”. To say that such a thing doesn’t exist is a good joke. That Hrafn and his ilk should be militant about it is ironic, to say the least)



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm


I wrote (74): ‘The notion of “specified information” is not just a phantom. Dawkins himself uses the term when discussing the Lenski bacteriological experiments in “Greatest Show on Earth”.’
Hrafn asked (77): ‘Please quote where Dawkins makes this claim (with page and edition) — as it turns up in neither a Google Book nor an Amazon text search.’
I replied (83): ‘What are you talking about? Dawkins makes reference to “specificity”. Dawkins talks about “information”. …?’
Hrafn ignored this reply, and has turned it into a “fiasco”, coming back to it in (80,91, 115, 119, 121, 129). Apparently, according to Hrafn, it isn’t sufficient that Dawkins talks about specificity and information. According to Hrafn, since Dawkins didn’t use the precise two-word combination “specified information”, it is a “fiasco”. Forgive me for not having my boxers in quite the knot about it that Hrafn clearly does.



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:17 pm


SDP (135):
1) It is not plausible because, although meaning and specified information are related, it has never been demonstrated that they are the one and the same thing (nor that “specified information” is the same as “meaning-bearing information”, even if either term had a rigorous definition).
2) It is not plausible because it has not been demonstrated that “differential neural activity” is not dependent on the form that the information is presented in.
3) It is not plausible because it has not been demonstrated that “differential neural activity” is not dependent on whose brain it is that you’re measuring.
There are probably dozens of other reasons, but I see no point in wasting further time on somebody with your Dawkins-credibility-problem.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm


Hrafn (133):
Hrafn demonstrates his ignorance of Information Theory by saying “It is most probably rather difficult and laborious to calculate without specialised software”. This is false. Information content is very simple to calculate. But that calculation requires a few things in place beforehand. And the *choice* of those “few things” is *critical* to the calculation. Indeed, this *choice* is non-trivial! And in the case of human-readable text VERY difficult. In fact, this is ALMOST as difficult (and indeed, has many of the same issues) as defining a quantifiable measure of “meaning”! But if Hrafn actually knew anything about Information Theory, he would have known that.



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm


SDP (136):
“Dawkins makes reference to “specificity”. Dawkins talks about “information”. …?’”
BUT NEVER IN REFERENCE TO EACH OTHER!
“Dawkins talks about specificity and information.”
Dawkins talks about “specificity” in three contexts that I could find via Amazon text search:
1) the specificity of protein catalysts in chemical reactions. No mention of information.
2) The specificity that active sites bestow on enzymes. No mention of information.
3) How shape bestows specificity on catalysts, and how this makes biological chemistry possible. No mention of information.
My point is further verified by UC @122, reading the physical book.
Call it a fiasco, a credibility gap or whatever, your unsubstantiated claim about Dawkins is a problem.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm


I recalled from actually reading Dawkins that he used ID-like terminology in his most recent book. So he didn’t use precisely the two-word combination that I referenced. My bad.
At least I didn’t pretend that time represented evolutionary opportunity better than the number of organisms. Now *that* would have been embarrassing (except that I didn’t harp on it in every single response I wrote to Hrafn).



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm


Given SDP’s failure to substantiate pretty much any claim he’s made to date, and his continual attempts to duck attempts to make him substantiate any of them, I would suggest that readers may wish to take his unsubstantiated claims @138 with more than a pinch of salt (I certainly won’t waste any time on them).
It is remotely possible that his claims could be correct — but look how his Dawkins claim turned out (failed on both Amazon text search and physical book read).



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm


Hrafn (141):
You’re bluffing. Anyone with any background in Information Theory knows I’m right: entropy measures depend on hypothesized probability distribution. And which probability distribution to hypothesize in the context of human text is problematic. Language modeling is not nearly as trivial as some people think.



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RJS

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:42 pm


sdp,
But “specified information” is the ID claim of Dembski and Meyer isn’t it? Dawkins does use ID like language at times – not in the sense of proof that natural processes are insufficient – but in the sense of wonder at the intricacy of biochemistry and biology.
And on your other point – about time and number of organisms. These are part of the equation – but unforunately both of these are but part of the equation. A small sample on a “slope” with an obvious optimum and the resource to reach that optimum will converge quickly (relatively few generations). Many factors go into both simulation of evolutionary processes and real evolutionary processes.
We don’t have all the necessary information yet – which is why I tend to view facts, such as those you highlighted about homo species as interesting data to better understand the problem – not an indication that evolution is wrong.



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RJS

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:50 pm


sdp,
Of course entropy measures depend on probability distribution. But in physics at least entropy is simply a way to describe the idea that equienergetic states will have equal probability of being populated (with a few caveats and nuances). From that we can derive thermodynamics and kinetics – and then we get to biochemistry, which is complex, but violates none of these principles.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:53 pm


RJS (143):
The magic words “specified information” is NOT a ‘CLAIM’! It is simply a label that folks use to represent something that everyone knows exists! It isn’t magical. It isn’t phantasmagoric. It simply means “meaning-bearing information” or “functionally-specific information”. That DNA contains “functionally-specific information” is not debatable.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm


RJS (144):
Language isn’t physics. ;-)



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RJS

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm


sdp,
#146 One could argue – but I won’t. But biochemistry and DNA are physics.
#145 Isn’t functionally specific information different from the “specified information” of ID theory? I must admit that I cannot see your point in this discussion. What point are you trying to make?



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 2:03 pm


RJS (147):
“One could argue” — that’s just a bluff.
And no: ID’s “specified information” is PRECISELY THE SAME as “functionally specific information”.
My point is nothing more and nothing less than the attempt to provide an antidote to Hrafn’s poison! :-)



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RJS

posted February 16, 2010 at 2:18 pm


Yeah – “one could argue” is a bluff of sorts … but not completely as physics is, in essence, the study of anything of interest looking for the underlying patterns and rules.
How is “specified information” … PRECISELY THE SAME as “functionally specific information” in your view?
Meyer uses examples of combinations and texts and computer codes when he describes specified information. But this is only a subset of what I would call functionally specific information. In the topic here – looking at DNA functionally specific information is not the same as combinations, texts, and computer codes. The underlying “rules” are very different.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 2:20 pm


RJS (144):
You appear to believe that I was claiming that language violated some “principles”… My claim was simply that the underlying probability distribution that one chooses to invoke in order to measure entropy (i.e., information content) of human text is non-trivial… there are no “principles being violated”.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm


RJS (149):
Collections of examples do tend to be subsets, yes. And “functionally-specific information”/”specified information” could certainly be rule-independent.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 2:56 pm


RJS (149):
“physics is … the study of anything of interest”
On the contrary. Mind is bigger than physics. And certainly of interest. My very first post mentioned intentionality intentionally :-)



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RJS

posted February 16, 2010 at 2:59 pm


So what is your point?
Meyer’s point is that the “specified information” in the cell is of the sort in this subset of examples (or at least he gives every impression that this is his point) – but such an analogy is an enormous stretch.
DNA contains functionally specific information – but the content and the way it is grown, used, modified, and “read” is related to the function and consistent with the environment and capabilities of a cell. It is functionally specific information that fits in its context in all ways. As such, the idea that it required a designer – an external intelligence – makes no sense.



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RJS

posted February 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm


You missed the irony – physics is the study of anything of interest. The mind certainly fits in that category (it is the ultimate of complex systems I think), and it fits there better than it fits in biological sciences.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm


RJS (153):
Let’s check our experience concerning things whose “functionally specific information … fits in its context in all ways”:
Computers.
Cars.
Airplanes.
Trains.
Clocks.
Cellphones.
iPods.
Stereo systems.
TVs.
Microwave Ovens.
“As such, the idea that [any of these] required a designer – an external intelligence – makes no sense.”
I’m sure that’s not what you really meant. Care to elucidate?



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RJS

posted February 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm


sdp,
In everyone of your examples from TVs to clocks – (or for that matter in a book) the specified information is foreign to the nature of the object. It does not fit in context, and that is exactly the point. The analogy doesn’t hold.
There is nothing in the functionally specific information in DNA in a cell that is foreign to the cell.



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Unapologetic Catholic

posted February 16, 2010 at 8:25 pm


And futhermore, each of the examples was designed and created by humans. I belive humans are part of nature.
Can you offer something that “requires a designer” but is not obviously made by humans? It might be easier to understand your position.



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sdp

posted February 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm


RJS (156):
“There is nothing in the functionally specific information in DNA in a cell that is foreign to the cell.”
This is inaccurate. The functionally-specific information in DNA may not be foreign to the *organism* (but even *that* is debatable), but there is plenty of it that is foreign to the *cell*.
And I really don’t get the claim “it does not fit in context” for these artifacts.



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 11:00 pm


SDP (140):
“I recalled from actually reading Dawkins that he used ID-like terminology in his most recent book. … My bad.”
If that had been your response to the FIRST challenge to your claim there wouldn’t be a problem. But instead you dodged and prevaricated across dozens of posts.
“So he didn’t use precisely the two-word combination that I referenced.”
And you continue to prevaricate. Not only does Dawkins not use the precise “two-word combination”, he DOES NOT COME EVEN CLOSE to using it, or to discussing the underlying concept.
Your ‘Dawkins fiasco’ is simply the most blatant example of your failure to engage in this conversation in good faith. This is why I’ve been badgering you on it.



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Hrafn

posted February 16, 2010 at 11:17 pm


SDP:
1) To the best of my knowledge, nobody has alleged any purportedly-fatal problems with either the definition or calculability of Shannon Information. Whether it is difficult or not to calculate, or whether that calculation requires assumptions, choices or similar does not alter this point.
2) In contrast the adequacy of the definition of specified information has been repeatedly been challenged, and the possibility of a meaningful calculation of it has been repeatedly been questioned. Neither Dembski, Meyer nor yourself have offered any substantiation for demurring from this view. (And I would note, in response to 145, that an argumentum ad populum is not substantiation.)
3) That the concept of meaning exists and that information exists does not mean that a meaningful quantification of ‘meaningful information’ exists, let alone that Dembski’s definition is such a meaningful quantification (the general consensus in the Information Theory community appears to be that it is neither a meaningful quantification of ‘information’ or of ‘meaning’).



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sdp

posted February 17, 2010 at 9:38 am


Hrafn (159 & 160):
“dodged and prevaricated” == “I ignored you”
In fact, I ignored you because it was clear that you would turn the issue into a smokescreen for the fact that your position is decidedly weak (as indeed you have amply demonstrated in your last few posts).
“DOES NOT EVEN COME CLOSE” == “he uses precisely the same concepts” (as RJS has acknowledged)
“failure to engage this conversation in good faith” == “pot. black. — in this entire thread, you have never failed to misrepresent what I have written.”
According to Hrafn, since we cannot quantify, measure or even define “love”, love cannot possibly exist. According to Hrafn, since we cannot quantify, measure or even define “intelligence” (IQ tests notwithstanding — don’t even go there), intelligence cannot possibly exist. According to Hrafn, since we cannot quantify or measure qualia, they cannot possibly exist. According to Hrafn, since we cannot quantify or measure personhood, persons cannot possibly exist. And you can be sure that he will enthusiastically shout down anyone who deigns to question his ultimate wisdom.



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Hrafn

posted February 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm


SDP GROSSLY MISREPRESENTS HIS OWN AND RJS’S STATEMENTS:
1) “Dawkins does use ID like language at times” RJS #143) DOES NOT equate to “he uses precisely the same concepts”. Every time a scientist uses the metaphor of purpose you use “ID like language”, but very rarely (if ever) will this have anything remotely to do with specified information.
2) “dodged and prevaricated” = #83, #136, neither of which are SDP ‘ignoring me’. I will also note that RJS (#84) & UC (#122) raised this point as well. Are you also ‘ignoring’ them?
We are left with the conclusion that we have no evidence that Dawkins, neither explicitly nor implicitly, discussed the concept of specified information, let alone that he discussed the concept in a non-unfavourable way. As such, Dawkins’ statements cannot be taken as any form of substantiation of the legitimacy of specified information.
We have seen expert opinion that the definition of specified information is fatally informal, and thus that a meaningful calculation is not possible. Neither SDP, Meyer nor Dembski appear to offer substantiation for its formality nor calculability. It is therefore reasonable to accept the unrebutted expert opinion on this matter.
SDP’s final paragraph is an obvious strawman argument, in that it is premised upon my making claims that I never made. As such it will be ignored.



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sdp

posted February 18, 2010 at 6:16 am


Hrafn (162):
If we blow away all the smoke (in which Hrafn dubiously claims that he represents what I wrote better than I do! :-D ), we come to the crux of the matter: specified information is difficult to calculate. That’s it. Specified information is difficult to calculate. That’s all.
When I offered a (albeit too brief) scientific proposal for calculating meaning (closely allied with specified information, of course), Hrafn went into irrational hysterics. Whatever. I also agree that it IS difficult to calculate.
Then I demonstrated that in cases where meaning is present (i.e., textual language) even Shannon Information is difficult to calculate. At this, Hrafn demonstrated his ignorance and pretended like that was irrelevant. Whatever.
When I pointed out the absurdity of linking “difficulty of calculation” to “unequivocal nonexistence”, Hrafn accuses me of an “obvious strawman”. He might not appreciate how silly he sounds when he makes this link, but I’m sure that I’m not the only one who does.
When I reminded folks that “specified information” is not some phantom, but is simply a label to indicate meaning-bearing or functionally-specified information, Hrafn shouted louder, and blew the smoke thicker and faster.
Hrafn has made mighty claims on this this thread. He has cited a number of papers, some better than others. But those citations do not make all the claims he claims they make. In fact, the summary of their claims is identical to Hrafn’s summary in post#162: specified information is difficult to calculate. I agree.



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sdp

posted February 18, 2010 at 7:26 am


Hrafn:
Let’s return to my very first response to Hrafn…
I wrote (83): “Since you have so little regard for meaning, can you explain why anyone should actually pay attention to what you wrote? Were you actually making a point? Did your post have a *meaning*? ;-)”
Hrafn responded (): “I DID NOT state that I “have so little regard for meaning”. In fact I listed two fields where “meaning” has a legitimate place. It is both RUDE and DISHONEST of you to caracature [sic] my point rather than addressing it. Science is concerned with MECHANISMS NOT “MEANING”. Given that your response does not address my point it is itself a meaningless non sequitor.”
My point (since Hrafn missed it so profoundly) was that every time Hrafn posts on this thread, he isn’t just typing “Shannon information”. He is (implicitly) embedding meaning in *everything he types*! That is to say, every time Hrafn says *anything* on this thread (including those posts claiming that specified information does not exist), he is doing so WITH SPECIFIED INFORMATION! (Oh! The irony! :-) )
Moreover, when I said (100):
“science doesn’t even get off the ground without “MEANING”" (That is, because this was also clearly too subtle, that without language — i.e., meaning-bearing information == specified information — there would be no science at all)
Hrafn replied (102):
“UNSUBSTATIATED assertion … Science has no way of measuring meaning, and thus cannot include it in its workings.”
I.e., with further irony, Hrafn uses SPECIFIED INFORMATION (i.e., meaning-bearing information in language) to deny the role of SPECIFIED INFORMATION (i.e., meaning-bearing information) in the history of science.
On what basis does he deny the existence of specified information? Simply that it is difficult to define or measure. On the same basis, he would certainly deny the existence of language, love, art, music, meaning, friendship, personhood, self-consciousness, qualia, intentionality, and, in fact, all the other things that make us uniquely human.



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sdp

posted February 18, 2010 at 7:54 am


My last word on the “Dawkins fiasco”:
So I was curious about why I misremembered something from reading The Greatest Show on Earth two months ago (actually, the reason is likely that I’m simply getting old). So I re-read the chapter, and… Dawkins refers to the (exact) term “irreducible complexity”. Wups. I misremembered one ID buzzword for another. Once again, mea culpa.
The horse is now officially dead. Any reference to it (which, I predict, Hrafn will not have the self-control to avoid) will demonstrate what I said earlier: it is a smokescreen to avoid addressing the substantive issues in this thread. :-)



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Hrafn

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:41 pm


SDP (163):
“If we blow away all the smoke” SDP HAS SUBSTANTIATED ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
The EXPERT OPINION is that specified is fatally informally defined and impossible to meaningfully calculate, not simply “difficult to calculate”. THAT IS ALL!
The “proposal” is “harebrained”, not scientific. Even were the methodology feasible (which I would question), it is entirely likely to be rife with false positives (meaningless information the viewer hopes is meaningful, meaningless information presented in a meaningful format, information that has strong idiosyncratic meaning solely to the observer) or false negatives (most commonly meaningful information that the viewer simply fails to understand) and is unlikely to have a meaningful unit of measure (let alone a unit of measurement that allows meaningful inferences). Further, “all the smoke” to the contrary, SDP has not demonstrated that his neurologically-derived “meaningful information” is CONSISTENT with Dembski’s definition of ‘specified information’ (that two definitions are talking about roughly the same thing does not imply that they are the same thing, or have the same properties). Until that final point is clarified, this whole proposal would seem irrelevant, as well as hairbrained. SDP is welcome to his little thought experiment, but I think we should have some substance to this “proposal” before we accept it as ‘substantiating’ anything more than SDP’s desperate advocacy of the “everyone knows” truthiness of specified information.
SDP has ASSERTED that “Shannon Information is difficult to calculate” — he has “demonstrated” nothing of the sort. Shannon Information is simply SDP blowing more smoke. None of my argumentation against specified information relies upon Shannon Information being easy to calculate so, in the context of this thread, I DO NOT CARE IF SHANNON INFORMATION IS DIFFICULT TO CALCULATE.
Then SDP points to a COMPLETE STRAWMAN — the EXPERT OPINION is that specified is fatally informally defined and impossible to meaningfully calculate, not simply “difficult to calculate”.
SDP’s ‘reminder’ of the unsubstantiated claim that “specified information is not some phantom” was based upon a misreading of Dawkins. By SDP’s own admission, Dawkins was talking about Behe’s cocept of irreducible complexity, which is about biological systems, not information (per se). Also, given Dawkins opinion of Behe’s work it is highly unlikely that he had anything positive to say about the concept, which I’m sure Dawkins considers to be a “phantom” (or similar adjective) concept.
Hrafn’s claim stands, without any substantive rebuttal:
“We have seen expert opinion that the definition of specified information is fatally informal, and thus that a meaningful calculation is not possible. Neither SDP, Meyer nor Dembski appear to offer substantiation for its formality nor calculability. It is therefore reasonable to accept the unrebutted expert opinion on this matter.”
SDP (164):
I took little to no interest in you ‘blowing smoke’ on this the first time around, why do you think I (or any random reader) would care about its regurgitation. It is all irrelevant to DEMBSKI’S DEFINITION of specified complexity, and the claims he makes for THAT CONCEPT. In any case nothing that you say addresses the fatal informality that EXPERT OPINION has found in Dembski’s definition (vague PoMo handwaving quite simply does not make an informal definition more formal).
SDP (165):
Too little, too late. And anybody who allows himself to get confused between ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’, especially where the context was almost certainly biological systems not information theory, is in no position to pontificate on the merits of ID.



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