Report on the 2005 Creation Mega Conference, Part Five

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Tuesday, July 19. Morning.

I had survived my first full day of the conference without calling too much attention to myself. That would change on the second day.

It was only with tremendous effort that I dragged myself out of bed in time for the first talk of the day, at 8:50 in the morning. I skipped the morning devotional entirely. I'm not naturally a morning person, you see, and the thought of going forth into the ridiculous Lynchburg heat at that hour was not appealing. Nonetheless, since the conference schedule promised a true embarrassment of riches, I dragged myself out of bed anyway. The basic track was offering “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,” by David Menton. The advanced track had “Two Hundred Years of Christian Compromise on the Age of the Earth,” by Terry Mortenson. I chose the latter.

I trudged into the classroom just as Mortenson was beginning. He opened with a prayer, then got down to business. No science this time around, just a rogue's gallery of confused Christians unwilling to tow the party line on the age of the Earth. After a brief history of geology from 1770 to 1830, Mortenson rattled off a list of pioneer compromisers. These were the scamps who paved the way for the modern heresies so many modern Christians claim to believe.

There was Thomas Chalmers, who fathered the “Gap Theory”, and George Stanley Faber, who concocted the “Day-Age Theory”. There were people who argued for a local, as opposed to global, flood, like John Pye Smith, and those like William Buckland and Adam Sedgwick who argued for a global, but geologically limited flood.

A particularly noteworthy example here was John Fleming, who apparently wrote about a “tranquil flood” and once claimed that the flood left no evidence. The geology mavens in the audience had a good laugh at that one.

Actually, the audience reactions were the most interesting part of this talk. At one point Mortenson put up the following quote from Charles Lyell:

I have always been strongly impressed with the weight of an observation of an excellent writer and skillful geologist who said that for the sake of revelation as well as of science - of truth in every form - the physical part of Geological inquiry ought to be conducted as if the Scriptures were not in existence.

This brought loud groans from the audience. Incidentally, the source for this quotation was an article by M. J. S. Rudwick in the British Journal for the History of Science. It's another example of using secondary rather than primary sources, as I remarked upon in a previous entry in this series.

Also bringing groans was a reference to Charles Templeton, who was a Christian evangelist who fell away from the faith and ultimately wrote a book called, “Farewell to God,” and a statistic that one third of Anglican ministers don't believe in God. My esteem for the Anglican church went up when I heard that, but mine was not the typical reaction.

I had a hard time getting worked up over this one; Christians can argue all they want among themselves about this sort of trivia. I was already psyching myself up for Werner Gitt's talk, “In the Beginning was Information.” The alternative was “Fossils, the Flood and the Age of the Earth,” by Tas Walker.

Gitt was kind enough to provide extensive notes to accompany his talk. Here is the introduction from those notes:

We will set out in a new direction, by seeking a definition of information with which it is possible to formulate laws of nature about it. Information is a nonmaterial entity and this is the first time that a law of nature has been formulated for a mental concept. First, we will describe the dstinguishing attributes of information, formulate its definition, state the laws themselves and draw six strong conclusions. Since we have successfully discovered and formulated 10 laws of nature about information, we will refer to this definition of information as Laws of Nature about Information (LNI).

While you're trying to figure out what any of that means, consider the strong conclusions Witt is going to draw from his model:

  1. God Exists; Refutation of atheism.
  2. There is only one God, who is all-knowing and eternal.
  3. God is immensely powerful.
  4. God is spirit.
  5. No human being without a soul; Refutation of materialism.
  6. No evolution.

Those are copied verbatim from the notes he provided. Now, we really could stop here and dismiss Witt as a crank. There is simply no way any bit of armchair theorizing or abstract modelling could possibly lead to the breathtaking conclusions Gitt is trying to draw. Nonetheless, let us consider some of his specifics.

Witt began by answering the question, “What is a Law of Nature?” He writes,

Laws of nature describe events, phenomena and occurrences which consistently and repeatedly take place. They are thus universally valid laws. They can be formulated in science, hence laws of nature for material entities in physics and chemistry (e.g. energy, momentum, electrical current, chemical reactions) and non-material entities (e.g. information, consciousness). Due to their explanatory power, and their correspondence to reality, laws of nature represent the highest level of significance in science. The following points about laws of nature are especially significant:
  • Laws of nature know no exceptions.
  • Laws of nature are unchanging in time (past, present or future).
  • Laws of nature can tell us whether a process being contemplated is even possible or not.
  • Laws of nature exist prior to, and independent of, their discovery and formulation.
  • Laws of nature can always be successfully applied to unknown situations.
(Emphasis in original)

There is an awful lot to discuss here, but actually I think the subtext is more important than the text. I suspect most scientists are instinctively uncomfortable with the sorts of sweeping generalizations Gitt is making here. To the extent that scientists talk about natural laws at all, they really just mean certain generalizations that have consistently been successful in predicting the results of experiments. The key criterion is usefulness, not capital-T, metaphysical truth. Science is a way of bringing order and predictability to the observations we make about nature. We need a word to describe those theories and models that have consistently proven themelves to be useful, and the word that is chosen for that purpose is “true.”

But that's too wishy-washy for creationists. They don't care about “generalizations scientists find useful.” Not at all. They want Truth. Like the Bible provides. As I have mentioned previously, the only reason they ever talk about science is that society requires that of them if they are to receive any hearing at all for their ideas. This is why they are so unreceptive to the perfectly sensible argument that hypotheses about God's actions in the world are not scientific because they don't lead to anything scientists can use to further their work.

That is why Gitt, and his supporters, are so happy to talk in such sweeping terms. They're not trying to further scientific research. They're trying to justify their faith in terms that won't get them laughed at.

Okay, back to the talk. Gitt provides the following “Natural Law Definition of Information”:

Information is an encoded, symbolic representation of material realities or conceptual relationships conveying expected action and intended purpose. Information is always present when, in an observable system, all of the following five hierarchical levels (or attributes) are present: Statistics, syntax (code), semantics (meaning), pragmatics (action) and apobetics (purpose).

For completeness, let me list his ten laws of nature about information:

  1. A purely material entity cannot generate a non-material entity.
  2. Information is a non-material fundamental entity.
  3. Information is the non-material foundation for all program-directed technological systems and all biological systems.
  4. There can be no information without a code.
  5. Every code is the result of a freely-willed convention.
  6. There can be no new information without an intelligent, purposeful sender.
  7. Allocating meaning to a set of symbols by a sender, and determining meaning from a set of symbols by a recipient, are mental processes requiring intelligence.
  8. Information cannot originate in statistical processes.
  9. The storage and transmission of information requires a material medium.

Where did these laws come from? According to Gitt they are generalizations from scientific observations.

There's a lot to criticize in those “laws” but let's stay big picture for the moment. What sorts of things does Gitt have in mind in formulating his definition? Well, certainly human languages. And computer programming languages, or things like Morse code would no doubt fit his definition. But since those are all things that human beings constructed themselves, it is not surprising that they have no existence without the input of intelligence. In fact, by building meaning and purpose into his definition of information, it's hard to see how information could possibly exist without intelligent agents to perceive it.

Anything else? I think we all know what Gitt is building up to here. He's going to claim that the genetic code fits his definition of information. Indeed, in justifying the first of his six conclusions, he writes,

Because all forms of life contain a code (DNA, RNA), as well as all the other levels of information, we are within the definition domain of information. We can therefore conclude that: There must be an intelligent Sender. (Emphasis in original)

Whoa! Stop the presses! Does the information encoded in our genes really possess the properties Gitt requires? Is Gitt really attributing to genes meaning and purpose? What could this possibly mean? He might say that the purpose of genes is to produce proteins. But is that the genes' purpose, or is that simply what genes do?

Or consider Gitt's explanation of what constitutes “Pragmatics (Action): “Information invites action. Every transmission of information is nevertheless associated with the intention, from the side of the sender, of generating a particular result or effect on the receiver.”

Who is the sender and who is the receiver in the case of DNA?

Our genes, after all, do not know that human observers are attributing to them the property of containing informaion. They, and the associated cellular machinery that transforms them into proteins, are simply doing whatever it is that they do, governed by various principles of physics and chemistry. Describing them with terms generally reserved for the actions of intelligent agents can never be anything more than a vague analogy.

Which brings us to the most fundamental problem of all with what Gitt is doing here. He was constantly talking about the information content of our genes. He would talk about the quantity of information increasing or decreasing in some context or other. He would say things like the cell contains more information than the Encyclopedia Brittanica. But at no point did he ever tell us how to measure information!

That's right. His constant challenge to evolutionists was to produce a natural nechanism that could increase the information content of our genome. But there's no hope of answering that question until we know precisely how to measure information.

During the talk Gitt explicitly differentiated what he was doing from Shannon's conception of information. He pointed out that Shannon's theory deals adequately with the “Statistical” level of information (the number of symbols in the message). This has the advantage of allowing a mathematical formulation of information, but it sacrifices many aspects of the everyday meaning of the word (like, well, meaning).

He also distinguished himself from William Dembski's ideas about complex specificed information. He said that Dembski's definition had the virtue of being easy to understand, but that his ideas had no clear domain of definition and that no strong conclusions are possible from it.

Gitt even said explicitly in his talk that his notion of information does not admit any mathematical formulation.

We will revisit this point momentarily.

Gitt concluded his talk. The collisseum erupted into enthusiastic applause. Before long, everyone except me was standing. Ken Ham took the stage and boasted that this was one of the most powerful apologetic arguments he had ever heard.

So I decided to hang around for the Q and A. I was more aggressive this time, and worked my through the crowd. I was standing pretty close to Dr. Gitt, part of a crowd of about forty or so people. The questions being asked were the usual fawning silliness, until Gitt got to the person standing next to me. Though he was clearly a supporter of AiG and Gitt, he asked what I thought was a very perceptive question.

He asked Gitt what his peers (by which he meant other scientists) thought about his natural laws of information. He pointed out that something like the law of gravity could claim universal acceptance among scientists. Could the same be said for his natural laws of information?

Gitt, incredibly, replied that his ideas have wide acceptance among scientists. He boasted of various seminars at which he had spoken in mainstream universities and talked about the enthusiastic response he generally got. He claimed to have published this material in secular journals.

He then started gushing about how all it would take to refute his ideas is for a scientist to produce a single natural mechanism that could increase the information content of the geneome. That's it! Just one! That's all it would take! But they couldn't do it!!

That was all I could stands, I couldn't stands no more. So I said, loudly enough for everyone to hear (which, as those of you who have heard me speak can attest, means I was speaking in my normal tone of voice), “What effect does a genetic mutation have on the information content of the genome?”

Silence as forty pairs of eyes turned towards me. I swallowed hard and continued, “As I'm sure you're aware, genes mutate all the time. Before I can answer your challenge I need to have a better understanding of your notion of information. So tell me how a simple point mutation changes the information content of the gene.”

He gave the standard response that genetic mutation invariably leads to a loss or degradation of information. So I went in for the kill. “You keep talking about information going up or information going down. You talked about the cell containing more information than an encyclopedia. But at no point did you tell us how to measure information. And without such a measure it's not even meaningful to talk about information content increasing or decreasing.” I went on to say ”Now, usually when scientists talk about information they have in mind Shannon's concept. When it comes time to measure information, is that what you have in mind?”

There was a high school student standing next to Gitt who was not amused by my question. He told me, rather condescendingly, that I should consult The Answers Book, by which he meant a specfic book on sale in the bookstore, which, he assured me, would answer my question.

It's useful to be very well read when you attend one of these conferences. As it happened, I had read the book the student was referring to and knew that it did not address the point that I was making. So I flashed him my most withering look and said, “I've read that book and it does not answer my question. Now if you don't mind I'd like to hear what Dr. Gitt has to say.” That shut him up quickly.

He hemmed and hawed a bit but eventually conceded that information can only be quantified at the “Statistical” level and that for the purposes of measuring information that is what was important.

So I replied, “If that is what you mean, then there are several well-known mechanisms that can lead to an increase in information content. Here's one. A gene can duplicate, leaving two copies of the same gene. One of those genes can then mutate, leading to two different genes. If you are measuring information in Shannon's sense, then it's a simple calculation to show that you now have more information than you started with. You can find this process described in any genetics textbook. Why is this not an andequate response to your challenge?”

He replied with the standard creationist evasion at this point: He argued that duplicating a gene does not produce new information. Phillip Johnson said the same thing in addressing this point in his book, The Wedge of Truth. It's a jaw-dropping reply, since it simply ignores the part where the duplicate gene subsequently mutates.

Anyway, we went at it for several minutes. His answers always came down to either misunderstanding the process I was describing, or changing what it meant to measure information. At one point he started talking about computer programs, and argued, typically, that if you mutate a computer program that will almost certainly crash the program. He argued that this was analogous to what happens when a gene mutates.

Alas, in the heat of the moment I didn't think to mention that programs mutating and producing new and better programs is exactly what happens in artificial life experiments. Instead I simply replied that likening genes to computer programs was a bad analogy in this context. When you mutate computer code you will almost certainly produce something that is not meaningful in the particular computer language you are using. That's not the case with DNA. Every three-letter DNA “word” codes for some protein or other, making it very difficult to speak in general terms about what happens to the information content of the gene as the result of a mutation. He shrugged and agreed that was a good point. (!!)

At this point I felt my mission had been accomplished. I knew there was litle hope of actually winning the argument, but I made it clear that there are answers to the idiotic arguments he made in his talk, and everyone had a chance to see that there were people who were totally unintimidated by the great Dr. Gitt. There was still a large crowd of people gathered around him waiting to ask questions, so I decided this was a good time to bow out of the conversation.

Nonetheless, I couldn't resist one parting shot. “There is one more point I wanted to raise before I go,” I said. “In your reply to the previous gentleman you said that your ideas about information are well-received by other scientists. But even you would have to agree that evolution is the dominant paradigm among scientists. Since you made it quite clear in your talk that your ideas absolutely rule out the possibility of evolution, I don't think it's really true that scientists agree with you here.”

At this point Amazing Thing Number One happened. He replied that there was no contradiction here because you could accept both God and evolution. That was definitely not the party line at this conference, and I saw some definite frowns among the poeple gathered around.

I pressed on. But we're not talking about believing in God and evolution. We're talking about accepting your particular theories about information on the one hand and evolution on the other. You said explicitly that that was impossible. So you were being disingenuous when you told the other fellow that scientists accept your ideas.

And this is where Amazing Thing Number Two happened. He shrugged and looked down at the floor. He actually looked abashed! Since I didn't think creationists were capable of shame, I considered this a major victory.

So I shook his hand, thanked him for his time and started to walk away. I was mentally patting myself on the back for a job well-done, and I was thinking about how badly I wanted another one of those delicious fajita burritos. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and all was right with the universe.

And that was when I heard this skanky, malodorous she-hag say, “You're really very ignorant about biology. You should learn a bit more before you start talking about it.”

Pause.

Pause.

Those of you who only know me through my writing may find this hard to believe, but I'm actually capable of great tact when I feel the situation calls for it. So I resisted the temptation to damage her physically in some way. I likewise resisted the temptation to unleash upon her a barrage of profanity so disgusting it would have made her ears melt right off her head. No. All I did was approach her casually, and in my most winning and charming manner (which is very winning and very charming, if I do say so myself) say, “Really, how so?”

I don't recall her precise answer, but I do recall that it was deeply stupid. She had completely missed my point about needing a way to measure information before you can talk about information increase or decrease. I tried to explain it to her. At times she seemed to get it, but then moments later it would be lost.

At one point we got hung up on the distinction between a new gene, and a merely different gene. I pointed out, again, that even a simple point mutation results in the production of a different gene, and I asked, again, how that changed the its information content. My point was that if she couldn't even make a statement about the information change that occurs as the result of one of the simplest genetic processes there is, how could she make sweeping generalizations about what could and could not happen in the course of evolution?

That wasn't what she heard. She thought it was a big concession that I had said different this time, whereas earlier I had referred to the production of a new gene. So I said that the gene produced by a mutation is new in the sense that it wasn't there a minute ago. But she was too busy congratulating herself on her cleverness to bother understanding this point.

Actually, though, she was not the only one I was talking to. Her son, who I would guess was about eleven or twelve, was listening as well. In fact, he was listening intently. He even threw in an occasional comment that was far more intelligent than anything his mother was saying.

While we were having this conversation several other people wandered over and joined the fray, all of them trying to come up with the zinger that would make me shut up. At one point, in response to a comment I made about mutations, one gentleman made the usual creationist remark that mutations always lead to the loss or degradation of information, and therefore couldn't lead to information increase. To seal the deal he gave me an example.

The example was the mutation that leads to sickle cell anemia.

Ugh. I rolled my eyes and said that actually the sickle cell anemia mutation was a perfect illustration of the point I was making. Increasing the risk for sickle cell anemia is only one effect of that particular gene. Another effect is to confer a resistance to malaria. So, in some vague sense, you can say that you have lost information regarding the proper formation of red blood cells. But you have also gained information with respect to avoiding malaria.

He agreed and replied that it was a trade-off. Exactly, I replied. So what was the net change in information as the result of that particular mutation? He shrugged and said he didn't know. I said, “And yet just moments ago you told me that this mutation led to a loss of information. What basis did you have for making that statement?”

Somewhere in here another fellow came over and asked what I meant by Shannon information. I proceeded to launch into a non-technical explanation of the concept that was so clear and easy to follow, you'd have thought no one could have been confused at the end of it. He shot back with, “Oh, that's just an assumption you are making.”

Pause. Deep breath.

No, I said, that's a definition, not an assumption.

But you're assuming that's a good way to measure information. I replied that it's a way that scientists have found useful in a variety of different contexts, and that if he had something else in mind it was for him to tell me what he meant.

This went on for quite some time, but I still haven't come to the most surreal part of the argument. That occurred when sickle-cell guy conceded the point that natural mechanisms could increase information content in the Shannon sense, but that really Gitt was talking about complex, specified information (CSI).

Ah, you're talking about William Dembski's idea, right? He replied that he was. I pointed out that Gitt said specifically in his talk that what he was doing was different from what Dembski was doing. Sickle-cell guy shrugged.

Now, I happen to believe that Dembski's notion of CSI is a lot of nonsense. Establishing that information is complex in his sense requires that we carry out probability calculations that in any practical situation can not be carried out. Establishing that some given information is specified requires that we match it up to some recognizable pattern, but there is no method for doing that in a non-arbitrary way. Perhaps I should simply have said that.

Instead I replied that since Dembski was the one claiming that something was fundamentally impossible (natural mechanisms increasing CSI) it was really for him to justify that claim. Sickle-cell guy then came back with his own version of Dembski's arguments, and that's where things totally entered the Twilight Zone.

His description of Dembski's work was ridiculous, you see. Somehow he had gotten it into his head that in Dembski's world, all information was complex specified information (leaving its origin as the only mystery), and that information was intimately linked with the idea of communicating a message instead of merely being related to certain probability calculations.

So I now spent about ten minutes having to explain what Dembski was actually saying, over sickle-cell guy's repeated objections. That's right! These guys are so confused they can't even parrot their own arguments properly. And there I am trying to give a clear explanation of Dembski's nonsense, just so this nimrod will understand what it is that I am refuting. Grrrrrrrr.

I finally persuaded him that he had Dembski wrong by showing that the things he (sickle-cell guy) was saying were obviously wrong, whereas the things Dembski was really saying were wrong for (slightly) more subtle reasons. I think I finally convinced him on the point.

Anyway, we went on like this for quite a while. I don't know if I convinced anyone of anything, but I certainly wiped the smug smile off that woman's face. And I suspect about five years down the line, her son is going to rebel hard.

We shook hands, and I walked out of the collisseum. Drove over to the Mexican restaurant, and got another one of those most excellent fajita burritos. The end to a perfect morning.


Next up: A rare point of agreement between me and the conference presenters. The ID folks are a bunch of weenies.

To be Continued

2 TrackBacks

A Braver Man than I from The Ziggurat of Doom on July 26, 2005 8:57 PM

Jason Rosenhouse is making a true sacrifice in the name of journalism: Attending the 2005 Creation Megaconference at Liberty University (oh, the irony) in Lynchburg, VA. His experiences so far can be found over at The Panda’s Thumb in four entri... Read More

Jason Rosenhouse, one of the contributors to the Pandas Thumb went to the recent Creation Mega Conference in America. Aside from his sometimes amusing descriptions of the usual creationist rubbish he also managed to ask a few questions of the speaker... Read More

75 Comments

I’m glad you got out of there alive. And I suspect you’re right about the woman’s son…

Information is a nonmaterial entity and this is the first time that a law of nature has been formulated for a mental concept.

What’s ‘entropy’, chopped liver? Entropy’s not a mental concept? That would surprise the hell out of the people on the other threads who are trying to lecture me on thermodynamics.

He gave the standard response that genetic mutation invariably leads to a loss or degradation of information. So I went in for the kill.

That’s not the kill. The kill is to point out that point mutations are reversible and do reverse, so if A->T is a loss of information then T->A at the same position is a gain of information.

Reed-

Good point! Wish I had thought of that. But I still like my answer too.

Perhaps Dembski was forced to invent his ill-defined CSI version of information, because he discovered that evolution was quite capable of generating the Shannon-definition kind.

There once was a Hessian named Gitt, Who stated ten Laws of the Bit. Jason wouldn’t relent, with his informed dissent, And revealed that Gitt’s theories were shitt.

The problem is that Shannon Information isn’t generated. It is a property of any discrete statistical distribution. Or rather Shannon Entropy is a property of any discrete distribution and Shannon Information (as a difference in entropies) is a property of any pair of discrete distributions.

I tried to read a page on Shannon entropy to understand what you’re saying, Reed, but the Daily Show’s on, and I can’t concentrate on probability distributions. I’ll just assume you know what you’re talking about.

I previously mentioned Satre and Existentialism.

Philosopy, Being and Nothingness (Heidieger sic? Kant) the first world war.…

Death…do we fear or enbrace death.…

The fundies fear is that life is meaningless. No god, no rules…

You have to make up the rules as you go along…Calvin Ball is a great game and a lot like science…the “laws of physics” exist until you change them…

When a winner says THANK GOD…should the loser curse god and smash his idols?

Its sad that the american indian embraced both the white god and the white flag…(bury my heart at wounded knee) because the white gods were better than the red gods…self evident from the power that destroyed them

God did this and god did that…I puke on people that thinks an all powerful omnipitent being is caring, at this moment, about them.…

No one cares about you except your mom, your boss, maybe your wife and less likely your kids…

get over it.…care about yourself and try to understand what an animal called man is doing sitting on a crapper taking a dump and flushing stuff into our environment.

you are born and maybe for one moment in this life you truely understand some other person, and then you die.

that’s it

Any chance you could scan those handout notes that Gitt provided? The whole swarm of nonsense around the idea of “information” in this regard has long been a fascination of mine; I’d love to see them. (Or has Gitt already got them online somewhere handy..?)

And cheers, again, for braving that convention and reporting back. It must feel like being a war correspondent, at times…

Steve Wrote:

I tried to read a page on Shannon entropy to understand what you’re saying, Reed, but the Daily Show’s on, and I can’t concentrate on probability distributions. I’ll just assume you know what you’re talking about.

Shannon Entropy is a measure of probabilistic uncertainity and can be calculated for any discrete distribution. (I am unsure if it is acceptable to calulate it for continuous distributions.) Shannon Information is defined as the difference between two entropies, i.e. I(before,after) = E(before)-E(after). In English this means that the gain of information is equivalent to the loss of entropy/uncertainity.

LOL - Just searched Werner Gitt on Google and one of the top results was this one:

http://www.evolutionisdead.com/cgi-[…]=Werner+Gitt

Not entirely sure what “Macho Marines (Volume 6)” has to do with Mr. Gitt’s writings - maybe the authors took their inspriation from his book “The Wonder of Man”?

(I’m guessing the attribution of Gitt to that, er, revealing publication is an unfortunate mistake)

:-)

You can listen to a version of Werner Gitt’s speech “In the Beginning was Information” given at earlier time here:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/ans[…]13_2_special

(It doesn’t seem to be available as a podcast from the conference website).

(Just realized it’s from 5 years ago, so it might be “out of date” - if that’s possible).

I had wondered if you would go to Mortenson’s little talk. I have a copy of his absolutely wonderful Ph D thesis in my house, and have come to the conclusion that some so-called universites in Britain are competing with the diploma mills of Florida.

Two comments. T Chalmers is wrongly given as the father of the Gap Theory - actually it goes back much further and as the chaosrestitution interpretation was the dominant view of theologians from 1600 or so and has roots in the early church. Consider exponents such as Mersenne, Descartes,Ray, Burnett and Whiston (who lengthened the Day) Woodward,Patrick, Poole ( amost conservative puritan commentator) and lots in the 18th century. Faber was not the father of the day age either. It has roots in the early church those above , Fr J Needham in 18th cnetury and others.

In fact Buffon develops some of these ideas in his Epoques, which is line with contemporary ideas. (some of these are in my paper in the Evangelical Quarterly of April 2oo2 and more are being in a paper being vetted for a more august secualr scientific work. Also see Lynch’s article in his Thoemmes Collection Creationsim and Scriptural Geology 1817-57 which is on the Thoemmes website.

He is sweeping on Buckland and Sedgwick both fine Christian geologists, and I bow my head whenever I drive or cycle past Sedgwick’s monument in Dent, Yorkshire.

Now as for saying a third of Anglican clergy are atheist then if he said it he is a liar. The figure is less than one per cent - a few hundred out of 10,000. These follow the nonsense theology and scholarship of Don Cupitt, whose incompetent scholarship oon the history of science is comparable to Mortenson’s. BTW the AIG site does refer to an Anglican vicar who gave Ham a rough ride years ago and that was me.

As for the rev John Fleming . He was an evangelical presbyterian and Lyell got some of his ideas from him.

I havent read Mortenson’s book yet - I hate paying for bullshit but his thesis is just a joke.

Is anyone else troubled by the analogy of life to a signal in a wire? Isn’t that what Shannon was talking about – an electronic signal in a wire (or broadcast)?

Analogies can be carried too far sometimes. We can gain insight into information transmission by reading Shannon. But ultimately DNA isn’t just a signal – it’s the transmitter, message, the medium, and the receiver, all at the same time. Shannon’s theories do not accout for all that life does.

Am I way, way off base?

Excellent post! One point - you refer to Gitt as “Witt” a few times. Undoubtedly a Freudian satire.

But ultimately DNA isn’t just a signal – it’s the transmitter, message, the medium, and the receiver, all at the same time.

Really? Acorns won’t turn into oaks if thrown in the ocean, and kelp won’t grow if buried in the forest. Why is that?

Shannon’s theories do not accout for all that life does.

No, but it’s not unreasonable to think that all that life does can be modeled in terms of his information theory. Gitt’s nonsense, however, has nothing to do with that – it’s wordplay that trades on some age-old conceptual confusions. Take, for instance, “A purely material entity cannot generate a non-material entity”. Surely the brain is a purely material entity. What then, is the mind? Or a thought? Or an emotion? Are these material entities? What about digestion? Is that a material entity? Is procreation a material entity? If not, are they non-material entities? What is an entity? Is evolution an entity? Is the 2LOT an entity? Is the number 27 an entity? Is a bit an entity? Is information an entity? Oops. If not, then what can one make of the claim that “Information is a non-material fundamental entity.”? Shannon’s information theory is a mathematical formalism; it doesn’t depend on fuzzy words like “material” or “entity” or “fundamental”.

Fantastic! I wish I was there to watch all that. I might even start going to creation ‘lectures’ over here in the UK.

Anyway, this is not a criticism but just something to bear in mind and I guess you already knew anyway. It’s easy to forget stuff in the heat of the moment. When a creationist claims that a point mutation leads to a loss of information just ask what happens if a mutation reverts it back to its original form. They will probably say something like “yeah but there no new information overall” to which you can reply “we are not talking about ‘overall’ we are talking about a particular instance. In that instance, a mutation creates the lost information.”.

Also, I’m curious to wonder what his answer to the following question would be: “If a purely material entity cannot generate information then how come it can destroy it? Why can’t the process by which information is destroyed be reversed?”.

I guess that would flummox them.

Here’s a revealing review of Gitt’s book from amazon.com.

Dr. Gitt, author of “In the Beginning was Information”, is retired from several prestigious scientific positions at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology. He has written numerous scientific papers on information science, mathematics, and control engineering. As an evangelist, he once saved 51 people at a gathering. He has written at least four creationist books, including the present one. In this book, Dr. Gitt starts out explaining how the laws of nature operate. He also tells us that God wasn’t constrained by them during the six days of creation, but did set them up at that time. Since then we mortals have been constrained by them, but God, of course, can circumvent them, as he often did during Old and New Testament times. The Author next discusses Information. He points out that Shannon’s Information Theory ignores the quality of the meaning in a message. Dr. Gitt then proceeds to develop several dozen or so theorems to fill in this gap. He states that his theorems are as immutable as the laws of nature he discussed earlier. He concludes that the theorems show it takes intelligence to come up with information and since DNA is a repository of information, it couldn’t have arisen by chance, so must have been designed by God. Dr. Gitt quotes several Biblical passages to show that Jesus is the Source of all energy, matter, and biological information. He states that the Bible is absolutely true, it contains no useless or false information; no other information can even approach it: It contains the most important information conceivable and is always up-to-date. We may not delete or add anything to its message. He bewails the fact that despite all this, most scientists bypass the Bible and submit themselves to the mental corset of a belief in evolutionary theory – which Gitt claims to have scientifically shown to be erroneous. Dr. Gitt applies his Information theorems to the Bible, and supplements some earlier portions of his book with an often-technical appendix. He presents interesting comparisons between some of the world’s languages. He precludes an evolutionary development of languages from scratch because some people are too dumb to have originated the language they use: Instead, God gifted man with this special ability when he created him. He later parceled out a lot of new languages at the Babel judgement to replace the one original language. Adam possibly received the gift of writing along with the gift of speech. If you are a creationist, this book may well help to reinforce your beliefs. If, like me, you don’t have a literal belief in all the details of Geneses, then you might find portions of Gitt’s book to be rather bizarre.

I forgot to mention some things. Note that Genesis was interpreted by most Christians as allowing more time than 144 hrs BEFORE geologists gave conclusive evidence for great age which was about 1770 or so.

I also should have mentioned Jean Andre de Luc’s work of 1775-1800. He was a conservative protestant who accepted vast geologicalages (though less time than his opponenet Hutton) but to a YEC 100,000years is a satanic as 5 billion. Martin Rudwick has an excellent article in Edited by C. L. E. Lewis and S. J. Knell The Age of the Earth: from 4004BC to AD2002 London: Geological Society of London Special Publication No. 190. 288pp.hb. £ ISBN1-86239-093-2

which is an excellent book. He has written a bookMartin Rudwick Bursting the limits of time Univ of Chicago Press 2004/5 which should be excellent.

PS I always spell Gitt as Git

PPS if Bagaaz contacts me I could point him to the next YEC show near him. I went to one by Bell and then by Monty White but they dont allow questions to stop both wicked atheists and wicked compromising Christians like me

I’ve come across Gitt’s work before. The cirticism I prefer to raise is on the issue of semantics:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/[…]ormation.asp

“Semantic information, therefore, defies a mechanistic approach.”

Yet, is not DNA handled in a purely mechanistic manner ? The whole developmental process, although highly complex is mindless chemistry.

Yet Gitt’s “Theorem” 9 is “Only that which contains semantics is information”

Yet it seems that DNA does not “contain semantics” and therefore is not information as Gitt defines it.

Here’s a nice little story by Daniel Dennett that explores the relationship between syntax and semantics: http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/twoblack.htm

AiG likes to promote Gitt as a retired “director and professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig), the Head of the Department of Information Technology.” Notice the extreme handwaving that they do to call him a “prominent information scientist”.

There may be a readon for this. According to this TO post from 1999 Gitt’s job in Germany was not as scientific as AiG makes it out to be: he directed computer support at the German version of NIST+NOAA.

I’ve heard of some of the seminars Gitt gave at secular university, and the response was, umm, not as “enthusiastic” as Gitt says. Here is a description from a friend who was at the computer department of one of those universities (name withheld, as it was a private email):

In May 1997 Dr Gitt solicited invitations from Universities in Australia to give seminars on topics in information theory, and artificial intelligence. He mailed heaps of departments, including my own faculty of information technology here at ***************.

At the time his credentials appeared to check out; he had quite a few hits on web pages and the topics sounded interesting. On this rather inadequate basis we made the mistake of allowing him to give a seminar.

The result was a shambles. It was pseudo-scientific nonsense in justifical of fundamentalist religion. Alas, I took no notes… but a colleague kept two of his books which were given out at the seminar. Neither has anything to do with information theory; and both are trite beyond belief.

“Stars and their Purpose: Signposts in Space” (English translation) 1996 Chrisliche Literatur-Verbreitung

“If Animals Could Talk” (English translation) 1994 Chrisliche Literatur-Verbreitung

The University of Canberra also had a very bad experience. In Canberra and at **** we had complaints to the faculty about people wasting time to come to the seminar, and requests to be removed from notices of future seminars. Monash University fared a bit better – they got wind of the problem and had a quick word to Dr Gitt that he was to stay on his advertised topics… the end result was apparently very thin technically speaking. Off the record I was advised that they also consider this person to be completely unethical.

Sounds right to me. I’ll lay long odds that Gitt’s claim of “wide acceptance” among scientists is, to use a euphemism, a terminological inexactitude.

He precludes an evolutionary development of languages from scratch because some people are too dumb to have originated the language they use: Instead, God gifted man with this special ability when he created him.

There’s a fine bit of irony in this particular gem of linguistic scholarship: “gift” is not a transitive verb. So I guess the reviewer is too dumb to have originated proper English, then–yeah, I’ll buy that.

you are born and maybe for one moment in this life you truely understand some other person, and then you die.

that’s it

“Life is suffering.” –Buddha

“Life is pain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.” – “The Princess Bride”

Re post 39675–while I stand by my point that the reviewer misuses language, my tone was unnecessarily snippy, and I apologize for that bit of self-indulgence. I must have gotten up on the wrong side of the web this morning.

There’s a fine bit of irony in this particular gem of linguistic scholarship: “gift” is not a transitive verb. So I guess the reviewer is too dumb to have originated proper English, then–yeah, I’ll buy that.

There are plenty of valid and substantive complaints against Gitt, but that is neither. “gifted” is a transitive verb, as anyone competent in either English or the use of dictionaries would know.

“gifted” is a transitive verb, as anyone competent in either English or the use of dictionaries would know.

Ah, that explains why “ts is always gifting us with his self-importance, hostility, humorlessness, and pedantry” is such a well-formed English sentence.

If you want to pick a fight, ts, I suggest you find someone who actually cares what you think enough to bother arguing with you. I already apologized for my snippiness; this topic is over as far as I am concerned.

qetzel -tres cool. I was given to understand that codons of three base pairs might be “optimal”.. a balance between having some leeway and not carrying excess baggage around. Are there any papers that aren’t too jargon heavy? I dropped chemistry in the last year of HS (the teacher was possibly the single most dull teacher in the entire school).

yaawwwnnnn, four and a half hours is just not enough…

I’ll jump on the bandwagon too, Steve. You got that imagery for Sal dead on. By the way, where did you learn to limerick? (yeah, yeah, yeah, who gives a bleep if its not a verb.) That was an excellent summation.

bleary-eyed cheerio, Paul

I see I’ve missed the initial round of answering “yes” to the different DNA and different amino acid codings - not only done but patented according to stuff I came across some time ago. Here are some links I kept in my collection:

multiple natural DNA/RNA to amino acid codes: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Taxonom[…]c.cgi?mode=c

artificial 22 amino-acid set: http://www.sciencedaily.com/release[…]12040149.htm

artificial DNA bases: http://nar.oupjournals.org/cgi/cont[…]ll/24/7/1308 http://nar.oupjournals.org/cgi/cont[…]ull/32/2/728 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/[…]opt=Abstract

Bathroom wall unavailable so:

SEF

Seems I may owe you yet another apology. On a return visit to Polish friends, double-checked about fundies. They expressed concern about sects. After some confusion, they said that they were worried about the recruiting efforts by the Moonies, apparently going on, as we blog, in Poland. Presumably they (the Moonies) are part of the conspiracy.

I don’t see why they have to conspire over it. They can all be individually rabidly religious and power hungry. Within a religious sect/cult though they do gain through “conspiring” with other gang members (church goers) the power to do more than one of them could alone - which is partly the same phenomenon as protest marches (religion irrelevant) are employing and why kings generally raise armies instead of having just one James Bond or ninja type do everything on his own. ID has demonstrated itself to be a bigger religious or anti-science conspiracy than the level of Bond merely relying on Q though, because it brought over an islamic fundamentalist who’s part of terrorising scientists in his own country.

But are the Moonies allied in any way with US fundies? Jonathan Wells’ professed faith suggesta a link.

Under Gitt’s definition of information a picture would not constitute a message. Is this a fair interpretation of what he was said and written? If that is the case then his definition of information or a message is simply not practially applicable to reality and should be discarded on the rubbish heap of bad ideas.

What you you all think?

MB

Thanks Paul. That’s the only limerick I’ve ever written. I just wanted to pay tribute to Jason’s excellent reports on this MegaCrappy Conference.

Apropos of Qetzal’s comments on possible alternative genetic codes, the first couple of chapters of Andreas Wagner’s new book Robustness and Evolvability in Living Systems gives a rundown of the evidence that the existing code is optimal or nearly so and provides extensive references to the primary research results. Conway Morris’ book. Life’s Devices, also has an interesting discussion of the topic, though the book is now a couple of years old and the author draws some quaintly Anglican conclusions from the chemistry.

Short summary: the evidence is pretty good that the current code is indeed optimal in at least one crucial respect. It minimizes the effect of random point mutations because altered codons are more likely to code for identical or chemically similar amino acids than alternative codes. (Note that there are an astronomical number of mathematically possible codes, even if you restrict the options to codes with a similar degree of redundancy.)

Our family was at the MEGA Conference. My daughters remember you, by your description of being a loud person (they didn’t notice the “articulate” part) and by some of your comments about Shannon’s theory. They actually talked about “the man who talked SO FAST that Dr. Gitt couldn’t understand a word he was saying”. What you neglected to tell your “audience” here is that Dr. Gitt is German and has limited command of the English language. He only understood a handful of the words that you spouted at him. Not much of a victory, I’m afraid. Perhaps you should have approached one of the English-speaking men. Sorry, silly me, that would have leveled the course a little more, wouldn’t it … hmm??? … Thanks for the blog—you have a great writing style. It’s a shame that you’re so full of yourself. You must be one of those higher types that evolved from a more advanced kind of ape … what are the chances …

What you neglected to realize, creo-nut, is that his “audience” knows exactly who Gitt is, and his nationality. If he’s competent to deliver a speech at a US conference, and, by this account, open the talk up voluntarily to Q and A, then he’s competent to understand the questions.

But not answer them, apparently.

It’s a shame that you’re so full of yourself

A creationist moron and dissembler who comes to an evo board wagging her finger and telling everyone what’s what should certainly know about that.

Janette,

I was at the MEGA conference too and heard Dr. Gitt speak. His English is very good. He writes in good, clear English as well. Many German academics have English that is very good to excellent - it has to be if they want to communicate with their English-speaking colleagues and publish in English journals. That is not cultural snobbery, it is a fact.

If Dr. Gitt did not understand Jason, then there are perfectly good ways to indicate it. Words like “what,” “please repeat that a little more slowly” and my favorite “my English is not as good as you presume it to be; please slow down and repeat yourself.” It seems to me that Jason asked a genuinely tough question that Dr. Gitt, at that particular point in time, was not able to answer. That doesn’t that he will never be able to answer it; but off the cuff, he was unable to give a satisfying answer.

It also seems to me that Dr. Rosenhouse’s questions are good ones - ones that NEED to be asked if Dr. Gitt’s material is going to make any dent in the professional literature. You should welcome the inquiry, not discourage it. After all, it’s part of science.

MB

A few years ago Gitt visited NZ. I can’t remember what year offhand so I don’t know if it was part of the aussie tour or later but it was in the late nineties. The first I heard of his talks were the large advertisements in the front section of the local newspaper. At maybe a third of the page across and a few inches deep they were hard to not notice. They claimed that he was going to be talking on Noah’s Ark and other topics. These ads appeared every so often for, I think, about two or three weeks. The saturday before his talk there was a tiny - make that microscopic - notice (about 2 cm) in the middle of the classifieds - where most casual readers would never have noticed it - explaining the Gitt was not in fact going to be talking about the advertised topics but would instead be giving talks on topics chosen by the university!

I showed up to the first talk and discovered that the person next to me hadn’t seen the ads and didn’t realise that Gitt was a a creationist. I forget how Gitt was introduced but it something to the effect that he was an Information-Theorist from Germany. He gave his talk. It was bullshit. The very first question from the audience, from a christian as it happens, destroyed his argument although he refused to admit it. I picked up a copy of his book (hey, it was free) and then wandered off to the staff lounge with Gitt and some of the audience where discussion continued.

It turns out that pretty much everyone, including the CS HOD (who is a very devout christian) thought it was bullshit (except for two fundies from the public). Even more interestingly I talked to one of my former lecturers who had organised the talks.

Apparently, Gitt had approached the Dept telling them that he was on holiday in NZ and had offered them some talks. When they saw the advertising and realised that he was a creationist they apparently told him off, since they didn’t want the university’s name associated with creationism, and told him to explain this in subsequent ads - hence the small classified ad. The fundies meanwhile had apparently learned about his talks because his ‘holiday’ was advertised on AiG and, iirc, and some may have even invited him here.

His book was nonsense but it also made claims about how he had given talks at various universities and conferences, and, iirc, he even claimed that he had been invited to some of these. My guess is that this is his modus operandi - he shows up in the locale (on ‘holiday’), offers to give talks, then he tells everyone he has given talks on his theories to experts at universities etc and lies about the reception he got.

His book also contained a FAQ and purported rebuttals. Top of the list was the first question he had been asked at the talk I went to. Apparently everyone sees through his circular reasoning.

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This page contains a single entry by Jason Rosenhouse published on July 26, 2005 7:18 PM.

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