A peer-reviewed article that supports ID … or something else

| 111 Comments

By Joe Felsenstein, http://www.gs.washington.edu/faculty/felsenstein.htm

William Dembski and Robert Marks have published what Dembski describes as a “peer-reviewed pro-ID article”. It is in the computer engineering journal IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics A, Systems & Humans in the September 2009 issue. In a post at his Uncommon Descent blog (where a link to a PDF of the article will also be found) Dembski describes it as critiquing Richard Dawkins’s “Methinks it is like a weasel” simulation and that “in critiquing his example and arguing that information is not created by unguided evolutionary processes, we are indeed making an argument that supports ID.” But what does it really say about ID?

The article does not mention ID directly, but defines a quantity called “active information” in search problems. Basically, it measures how much faster the solution can be found by a search in a problem’s space than by looking for the solution by drawing points from the space in a random order — how much faster one finds the solution than a monkey with a typewriter would. In Dawkins’s Weasel case, a monkey with a typewriter finds the solution after about 1040 tries, while one version of Dawkins’s program would take only about 728 tries. The active information is the log of the ratio of these numbers, about 124 bits.

In effect, the picture the article paints is that information is out there in the shape of the fitness surface — the way fitnesses change as we move among neighboring genotypes. So, on this view, natural selection does not create information, it just transfers it into the genotype. The information is out there already, lying around. Dembski and Marks at one point say that “the active information comes from knowledge of the fitness”. If the fitness surface is smooth, as in the Weasel case, natural selection will readily be successful. D&M would then regard the information as provided by a Designer in advance.

In that case natural selection works. If a Designer has structured our genotype-phenotype space so that fitness surfaces are often smooth, if mutations do not typically instantly reduce the organism to a chaotic organic soup, if successful genotypes are often found to be close in sequence to other successful genotypes, then the Designer is not designing individual organisms — she is leaving natural selection to do the job. Dembski and Marks’s argument would then at most favor theistic evolution and could not be used to favor ID over that.

One can wonder whether one needs any particular Designer to structure reality in that way. The laws of physics do not make all objects interact intimately and strongly. When I move a pebble in my back yard, the dirt, grass, trees, and fences do not instantly reorder themselves into a totally different arrangement, unrecognizably different. If they did, of course natural selection would not be able to cope. But as they interact much less strongly than that, only a few leaves of grass change noticeably. I can cope, and so can natural selection. Does the smoothness of fitness surfaces come from this weakness of long-range interactions in physics? If so, then Dembski and Marks’s argument ends up leaving us to argue about where the laws of physics ultimately come from, and most evolutionary biologists will not feel too worried.

111 Comments

“So, on this view, natural selection does not create information, it just transfers it into the genotype. The information is out there already, lying around.”

Exactly. So as long as there is an environment, no intelligence is needed in order to create information, in genomes, complex, specified or any other. This guy has just disproven all of his own previous nonsense. And of course, now that it is in a journal for all to see, I’m sure that many people are going to point this out to him.

Why would someone with absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about genetics, population genetics, selection or fitness try to make such obviously flawed arguments? Who exactly does he think he is fooling? Who does he think is going to read this journal? Does he think that he can get away with calling this evidence for ID? Next thing you know he will be trying to patent phylogenetics!

In Dawkins’s Weasel case, a monkey with a typewriter finds the solution after about 1040 tries, while one version of Dawkins’s program would take only about 728 tries. The active information is the log of the ratio of these numbers, about 124 bits.

A typo here? A monkey would take way more than 1040 attempts and the log of the ratio is way more than 2^124. Missed a gillion,zillion or a gazillion there?

What weasels. Seems that engineers are now poised to take over biology. So how does an accurate description of ID creationism’s failure have to be worded now? “There are no actual peer reviewed papers on ID creationism, or any other form of creationism, or anything that actually supports creationism, in biological research journals.” Would require explicit definitions of what “peer reviewed” and “biological research journal” means. Peer viewed doesn’t mean fellow unqualified wingnuts, and “journal” doesn’t include newsletters, or an unrespected obscure journal edited and published by one wingnut.

it said nothing about evolution and was a purely theoretical paper (negative use of theoretical)

So what’s the fuss about?

It is in the computer engineering journal IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics A, Systems & Humans in the September 2009 issue.

Why am I not surprised (apologies to the sane engineers out there).

So, on this view, natural selection does not create information, it just transfers it into the genotype.

Or the genotype is affected by the information in the environment, within limits imposed by history, chemistry, contingency.…

Natural selection is responsive, not pro-active.

This is not exactly ground-breaking work, Billy.

Next Dr. Dr. Don’t-Believe-In-Science will trot out the “DNA is like computer code” garbage.

Is it only my browser that is rendering the number of tries for the random version as just a trifle over one thousand? :)

I see that D&M are on about “ratchetting” again. Isn’t the apparent retention of correct characters in the Weasel program is merely a consequence of the simplistic nature of the problem acting in conjunction with the draconian level of selection in the implementation. (Am I correct in thinking of this behaviour as “emergent”?)

Is it not ironic that Dembski sees “Design” in the supposed “latching”.

The latching is an illusion. Therefore “Intelligent Design” is also an illusion. QED.

Ravilyn Sanders said:

In Dawkins’s Weasel case, a monkey with a typewriter finds the solution after about 1040 tries, while one version of Dawkins’s program would take only about 728 tries. The active information is the log of the ratio of these numbers, about 124 bits.

A typo here? A monkey would take way more than 1040 attempts and the log of the ratio is way more than 2^124. Missed a gillion,zillion or a gazillion there?

Oops. I actually put a caret (up-arrow) there to indiciate exponentiation. But the formatting for the blog must have eliminated it. Try thinking of it as what it was intended to be, 10 to the 40th power.

Kevin B said:

Is it only my browser that is rendering the number of tries for the random version as just a trifle over one thousand? :)

I see that D&M are on about “ratchetting” again. Isn’t the apparent retention of correct characters in the Weasel program is merely a consequence of the simplistic nature of the problem acting in conjunction with the draconian level of selection in the implementation. (Am I correct in thinking of this behaviour as “emergent”?)

Is it not ironic that Dembski sees “Design” in the supposed “latching”.

The latching is an illusion. Therefore “Intelligent Design” is also an illusion. QED.

Oops-squared. I bungled my attempt to respond to two posts by merging them. Anyway, trying again:

Kevin B said:

I see that D&M are on about “ratchetting” again. Isn’t the apparent retention of correct characters in the Weasel program is merely a consequence of the simplistic nature of the problem acting in conjunction with the draconian level of selection in the implementation. (Am I correct in thinking of this behaviour as “emergent”?)

Is it not ironic that Dembski sees “Design” in the supposed “latching”.

The latching is an illusion. Therefore “Intelligent Design” is also an illusion. QED.

Latching is a side-issue, and Dembski’s critics are for some reason concentrating on it. The Weasel program works about as effectively with and without latching, in any case much much faster than 10-to-the-40th-power tries. The issues I have raised in the post are more important.

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

Dembski and Marks’s argument ends up leaving us to argue about where the laws of physics ultimately come from, and most evolutionary biologists will not feel too worried.

Michael Roberts Wrote:

So what’s the fuss about?

Simple. Some “evolutionists” will take Dembski’s bait - again - and argue against a designer. Then Dembski and co. - again - will spin it as “naturalist” bias, and brag about another “peer reviewed” article. Then creationist rubes will cite it in their comical letters-to-the-editor, blissfully unaware that it doesn’t even touch evolution, let alone support their particular fairy tale.

I forwarded this page to the IEEE Transaction’s editor for an FYI. I suspect they don’t consider biological aspects of such articles. I also used to be an IEEE member, and I’m surprised (ugh) to see that Dembski & Mark are also members.

The WAD’s blog said:

Question: When Dawkins introduced this example, was he arguing pro-Darwinism? Yes he was. In critiquing his example and arguing that information is not created by unguided evolutionary processes, we are indeed making an argument that supports ID.

Really, WAD? We’re back to the weasel thing? Really?

For the millionth time, the weasel was cited as a simplistic example of a process. He used it to illustrate a point, not to say, “See, it works in the computer so it must work in biology!” Even if you could show that the whole thing was a farce, that would have no impact on the validity “unguided evolutionary processes” as you call them.

You’ve shown that the abstract world inside a computer needs some kind of representation of success to perform a successful search. Bravo. Why didn’t I think of that? For your next trick, I’d like to see you demonstrate the futility of alchemy… Or for a somewhat greater challenge, you could just show us how anything in that paper applies to the decidedly non-abstract world of biology. I suspect you’re too busy, having “assumed the role of public intellectual.”

BTW, if you have to “assume” a role of any kind of intellectual, you’re not one.

I loved the way that William Dembski after only about 7 comments, several of which were his, stated that he was “weary of the quibbling” and closed the comments (I can’t imagine that Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers would do that).

e-dogg said:

For the millionth time, the weasel was cited as a simplistic example of a process. He used it to illustrate a point, not to say, “See, it works in the computer so it must work in biology!”

Exasperating, isn’t it? Dawkins flatly SAID when he introduced the Weasel Program it was simplistic and “misleading” … and if evobashers can’t read that in THE BLIND WATCHMAKER, they can read the citation in the Wikipedia article on the Weasel.

So Dawkins went on in CLIMBING MOUNT IMPROBABLE to talk about programs that simulate the evolution of spiderwebs and have no goal other than “build a web that catches flies better” by using successive approximation / trial and error.

I cannot say that modern evolutionary science (there was a time when using the term “Darwinism” wasn’t irritating, but it is NOW) is an item of faith to me … the only reason I accept is because the evidence demands it. Whatever way the Universe works is fine by me. Somebody got better evidence, I’ll be perfectly interested – but evobashers recycling the same lame kiddie grade arguments over and over and over just doesn’t cut it.

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

Does the smoothness of fitness surfaces come from this weakness of long-range interactions in physics? If so, then Dembski and Marks’s argument ends up leaving us to argue about where the laws of physics ultimately come from, and most evolutionary biologists will not feel too worried.

It appears that D&M have a hidden straw man in their argument that implies that evolution moves around on a landscape of square wells or extremely deep potential wells. Misconceptions about entropy are also still being kicked around by D&M.

Life, as we know it, exists approximately within the energy range of liquid water. Do D&M understand the natures of the potential wells within that energy range; where they come from, what shapes they have? Do they understand the depth of these potential wells compared to those associated with chemical bonds?

Do they understand how these potential wells compare with the thermal energies of the molecular vibrations of the very molecules that are involved?

If these guys actually learned some physics and chemistry, let along some biology, they might have some hope of publishing a paper that made sense. Won’t happen.

Mike Elzinga said:

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

Does the smoothness of fitness surfaces come from this weakness of long-range interactions in physics?

If these guys actually learned some physics and chemistry, let along some biology, they might have some hope of publishing a paper that made sense. Won’t happen.

I am going to make myself unpopular by being less hard on them. I don’t think getting the “latching” issue wrong matters much, and their suggestion of associating an amount of information with the shape of the fitness surface is not necessarily silly. It depends on what you can then do with it.

Unfortunately, about all it seems you can do with it right now is to simply use it to say “see, information was already there, nyah, nyah, nyah”. And imply (without being explicit, and wrongly) that this somehow validates ID instead of either theistic or nontheistic evolution. I don’t think the paper is really bad, just lacking a section that explains what all this is good for.

D&M have mischaracterized the entire process of evolution right from the beginning of their paper. Therefore, any argument they want to make about “endogenous” or “exogenous” information is irrelevant and simply bogus. So is their invocation of “active information”

They should start with a simpler problem to see the bogusness of their critique. Water is sitting within a glass tube. Calculate the probability of finding a water molecule on the glass surface a given distance above the mean level of the surface of the water. Do this problem with and without a gravitational field.

How close will their answers come to reality if they simply employed their search algorithms with none of what they apparently disparage as “active information” injected into the search?

Why would not putting such information into the search be justified? Why is putting it in “cheating”?

It seems like D&M don’t think it is fair to put any knowledge of how the universe works into the search algorithm of a computer program. This is anti-science as near as I can tell.

The universe is full of potential wells; it’s what we know. If it weren’t, nothing would exist except elastically scattering particles at most.

A fitness landscape with potential wells about which solutions cluster is a perfectly valid representation of how nature searches for “solutions” to “problems” from adjacent sets of solutions. It’s what evolution does.

Sheesh! Why is that “unfair”?

Mike Elzinga said:

How close will their answers come to reality if they simply employed their search algorithms with none of what they apparently disparage as “active information” injected into the search?

Why would not putting such information into the search be justified? Why is putting it in “cheating”?

A fitness landscape with potential wells about which solutions cluster is a perfectly valid representation of how nature searches for “solutions” to “problems” from adjacent sets of solutions. It’s what evolution does.

Sheesh! Why is that “unfair”?

Well, in the paper they don’t say it is “cheating” or “unfair”. All that happens when their concepts get used in ID debates.

Mike Elzinga Wrote:

If these guys actually learned some physics and chemistry, let along some biology, they might have some hope of publishing a paper that made sense.

I think they know some physics and chemistry. Certainly more than most 9th grade students that they (Dembski at least) want to mislead with their phony “critical analysis of evolution”. But if they knew a lot of physics and chemistry, I’d bet the ranch and the dog that they’d just misrepresent it better.

It’s the same definition as ever. No data in support of ID in peer-reviewed scientific research papers. In particular, no mechanism of how an “intelligent agency” influences biological complexity.

Mike said:

What weasels. Seems that engineers are now poised to take over biology. So how does an accurate description of ID creationism’s failure have to be worded now? “There are no actual peer reviewed papers on ID creationism, or any other form of creationism, or anything that actually supports creationism, in biological research journals.” Would require explicit definitions of what “peer reviewed” and “biological research journal” means. Peer viewed doesn’t mean fellow unqualified wingnuts, and “journal” doesn’t include newsletters, or an unrespected obscure journal edited and published by one wingnut.

There are any number of computer evolution simulation programs around.

One such is called EV. Using RM + NS, it shows that Shannon information can increase quite rapidly. Anyone can download it from the net.

Xpost Pharyngula:

More on Ev. This paper is open source, available to anyone with an internet connection. Rather than babbling on about “information”, they actually measure Shannon information content before and after. Information increases by evolution.

Nucleic Acids Res. 2000 July 15; 28(14): 2794–2799. PMCID: PMC102656

Copyright © 2000 Oxford University Press Evolution of biological information Thomas D. Schneidera National Cancer Institute, Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center, Laboratory of Experimental and Computational Biology, PO Box B, Frederick, MD 21702-1201, USA

Received March 7, 2000; Revised May 25, 2000; Accepted May 25, 2000. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

AbstractHow do genetic systems gain information by evolutionary processes? Answering this question precisely requires a robust, quantitative measure of information. Fortunately, 50 years ago Claude Shannon defined information as a decrease in the uncertainty of a receiver. For molecular systems, uncertainty is closely related to entropy and hence has clear connections to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. These aspects of information theory have allowed the development of a straightforward and practical method of measuring information in genetic control systems. Here this method is used to observe information gain in the binding sites for an artificial ‘protein’ in a computer simulation of evolution. The simulation begins with zero information and, as in naturally occurring genetic systems, the information measured in the fully evolved binding sites is close to that needed to locate the sites in the genome. The transition is rapid, demonstrating that information gain can occur by punctuated equilibrium.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Well, in the paper they don’t say it is “cheating” or “unfair”. All that happens when their concepts get used in ID debates.

Indeed; and I didn’t mean to imply that it was.

However, as I read the paper, the backdrop of “injected information”, “active information”, “putting the solution into the algorithm”, etc., etc. seemed evident. Otherwise, why strain at this gnat in the first place?

But Dawkins’ little program neatly captures, at a fairly high phenomenological level and almost as a metaphor, the effects of falling into shallow potential wells along with the requisite energy dissipation necessary for particles to stay in those wells until kicked out by a random influxes of energy.

It this case, the target string represents a potential well, the correct selection of a character represents a particle having been captured, and a character changing from correct to incorrect reflects a particle being kicked out of the well.

With latching, the wells are too deep for a particle to be kicked out once it has been captured (given the amount of background energy available).

Without latching is like having a background of radiation reactivating already captured particles. With latching is like removing the background radiation.

I’m not proposing this metaphor lightly or as a stretch. When we fold everything together concerning a complex organism under the pressures of selection, the entire organism itself is a “macrostate” of a myriad of underlying “microstates”. There is a range of microstates and corresponding macrostates in a population of organisms. Varying the surrounding environment will change the relative distributions of these states in subsequent generations. The physics and chemistry behind this ultimately comes down to potential wells being selected and vacated as selective pressures change.

The fact that the wells are shallow compared to the wells associated with chemical bonds (or nuclear binding energies) is extremely important. If the wells were deep relative to the energies associated with the surrounding environment, evolution would not occur. If the wells were too shallow or non-existent, evolution could not occur.

I am still of the impression that the use of the word “information” or even entropy when trying to characterize an organism is still at the heart of the confusion and the endlessness of this debate. The ID crowd would like to keep the arguments on this track.

Raven wrote:

“Rather than babbling on about “information”, they actually measure Shannon information content before and after. Information increases by evolution.”

So why don’t they? Why did the editor let them get away with this when the standard had been set nearly ten years ago for research in this area?

Maybe they just couldn’t bear to actually quantify information, cause you know, then they would have had to quantify complex specified information and then they would have had to admit that that could produced by exactly the same mechanism. Still no intelligence in sight.

James F said:

It’s the same definition as ever. No data in support of ID in peer-reviewed scientific research papers. In particular, no mechanism of how an “intelligent agency” influences biological complexity.

So it’s the same old false dilemma, proving ID by only disproving evolution? Evidence against you is evidence for me?

So why don’t they? Why did the editor let them get away with this when the standard had been set nearly ten years ago for research in this area?

Got me. I don’t follow information theory closely.

Dembski’s complex specified information without a definition and a way to quantitate it is just bafflegab, meaningless.

So what is Active Information or Injected Information. Without a definition and quantitation, just more meaningless bafflegab.

Might just as well call it Thaumaturgical Transfer of information which means in plain English.…goddidit.

From a reference posted by raven:

AbstractHow do genetic systems gain information by evolutionary processes? Answering this question precisely requires a robust, quantitative measure of information. Fortunately, 50 years ago Claude Shannon defined information as a decrease in the uncertainty of a receiver. For molecular systems, uncertainty is closely related to entropy and hence has clear connections to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. These aspects of information theory have allowed the development of a straightforward and practical method of measuring information in genetic control systems. Here this method is used to observe information gain in the binding sites for an artificial ‘protein’ in a computer simulation of evolution. The simulation begins with zero information and, as in naturally occurring genetic systems, the information measured in the fully evolved binding sites is close to that needed to locate the sites in the genome. The transition is rapid, demonstrating that information gain can occur by punctuated equilibrium.

Emphasis added.

With apologies if I seem to be getting a bit impatient; we have been through this before, sorry. This is not aimed at you, raven. :-)

But information is not the same as entropy; it never has been.

Place Dembski’s information red herring in a somewhat different context by asking how this argument would go if it were applied to a bunch of hanging icicles developing over time. Each time we observe them, the sizes and distributions have changed from what they were previously.

What information are we talking about when we start observing the icicles? What information are we talking about when we observe them several days later? Is there an increase or decrease in information? How about entropy? Does asking such questions make any sense in this case?

Why are living organisms different? What do we mean by increased information? Relative to what? If orangutans had become the most intelligent creatures, how would the “information” associated with that state of affairs compare with the state in which humans seem to be the most intelligent?

It appears to me that in this context of genetic algorithms, the end has been specified. We know how close we are to what we set out to achieve. We could then set up a measure of how close we are and call that “information” if we like.

But what if no end is specified; the icicles in the example just grow and change? What does information mean in this case?

Similarly, the numbers and distributions of living organisms grow, shrink and change. What information are we talking about?

The ID crowd’s critiques of Dawkins’ Weasel program are conflating the illustration of a principle of convergence to a “solution” with a misuse of “information”. The convergence to a solution uses perfectly valid processes taking place in nature to show that selection enhances convergence to whatever state is consistent with the given environment and current state of the organism.

But what information is contained in the “solution” in Dawkins’s Weasel program? Just because it is a comprehensible sentence means nothing; it could just as well have been a random string of characters.

So it’s the same old false dilemma, proving ID by only disproving evolution? Evidence against you is evidence for me?

But of course! Never mind that they’d have to specify which parts of the theory of evolution are impacted by their claims.

So what they’d have to answer, is does their stuff undermine common descent, or just add a previously unknown mechanism? If the later, they would then need to explain why their hypothetical mechanism produced results that appear compatible with current theory.

After all, with any engineers we’re familiar with, deliberately engineered life would have lots of major traits that didn’t fall into a single nested hierarchy (and also there would be traits copied exactly, rather than with lots of irrelevant variations), so the fact that we observe such a hierarchy is strong evidence against engineering that has any resemblance to ours. (And if the engineering doesn’t resemble ours, then analogies to human engineering aren’t reasonable.)

Henry

Why would not putting such information into the search be justified? Why is putting it in “cheating”?

How does one even do a search without at least some information?

Isn’t the first question in any search “What am I searching for?”, a question whose answer automatically provides at least some tidbit of information.

(Admittedly, for evolution at least, the answer is usually something terribly generic, along the lines of “gets laid more than the other ones”, but still, that’s information.)

Dembski’s complex specified information without a definition and a way to quantitate it is just bafflegab, meaningless.

So what is Active Information or Injected Information. Without a definition and quantitation, just more meaningless bafflegab.

As is the phrase “intelligent design” - to me that phrase looks like it was designed to trick people into not thinking about the engineering implications of what they’re trying to imply without actually saying.

Henry

Slightly off-topic: Dembski gets fooled by an “Urban Legend” - http://www.uncommondescent.com/humo[…]ing-machine/

What mass and/or energy are contained in “information”. By which of the four known forces does “information” interact with other matter and energy in the universe.

My understanding is that information is an attribute of mass/energy like shape. It makes no sense to talk about information without realizing that it exists as a property of a tangible substrate. It is not a disembodied entity existing free of mass/energy.

If anyone knows more, post it.

raven said:

What mass and/or energy are contained in “information”. By which of the four known forces does “information” interact with other matter and energy in the universe.

My understanding is that information is an attribute of mass/energy like shape. It makes no sense to talk about information without realizing that it exists as a property of a tangible substrate. It is not a disembodied entity existing free of mass/energy.

If anyone knows more, post it.

This seems like a step in the right direction of clarifying the confusions injected by the ID/creationists.

Obviously matter and energy are involved, but so is the “eye of the beholder”. What is seen as “significant” or as “information” has little relationship to the physics of matter and energy involved. A cute woman in a bikini might be seen as a sex object to a horny male of the same species but as lunch to a hungry lion.

A hanging power line can be seen as a conductor of electricity directing it to a desired location. It can be seen as a catenary curve hanging between two poles. It can also be seen as a convenient perch by a bunch of pigeons.

Whatever the case, the potential energy of the hanging cable relative to the ground is the same; as is the energy required to put it in place.

Dave Springer said:

Personally I prefer to cut right to the chase and focus on the fine tuning problem in cosmology where the smoothness is much more amenable to precise measurement compared to the biological fitness landscape. The cosmological fitness landscape is widely acknowledged by physicists as being extraordinarily smooth and there’s no theory to explain it.

Where do physicists talk about a “cosmological fitness landscape?” As far as I knew a “fitness landscape” is specifically used to evaluate biological systems in terms of their “fitness” (i.e. successful reproduction) within the context of environmental pressures, not backwards to mean the “fitness” of an environment to biological systems reproducing. (someone correct me if I’m wrong on that). Fitness Landscapes are basically only used in biology, or in similar efforts such as genetic algorithms.
This is the same kind of horse-before-the-cart thinking that lets the Anthropic Principle convince people that the Universe is “fine-tuned” for life in the first place, rather than the more probable explanation that life is fine-tuned for the Universe. To use Douglas Adams’ famous allegory, is the hole in the ground fitted to the puddle or is it the puddle fitted to the hole? The puddle preferred the former view (until it dried up, leaving the hole in the ground waterless but otherwise completely unscathed).

The hope of ID opponents, including Susskind…

Excuse me?

The problem with string theory is no one knows how it can be experimentally falsified or verified. I read recently that string theory predicts a slight negative curvature of space/time and that the next generation of instrumentation may have enough sensitivity to measure the predicted negative curvature.

Whereas the problem with Intelligent Design is that it’s incapable of making exclusive, testable predictions because it is essentially content-less: there is no mechanism proposed by which a “designer” acts, there is no tell-tale signature in either biology or cosmology that can be identified as “designed” versus naturally arising, there are no constraints placed on how a “designer” can do any “designing” at all, so there’s nothing to rule out flicking a magic wand to make it happen, there’s
String “Theory” actually relies on mathematical frameworks that doesn’t appear to be invalid, but need a lot of work before they’re capable of making unique predictions at scales we can experimentally examine. With refined instruments performing experimental designs we’re already familiar with its predictive power vs. the Standard Model is probably going to be testable sometime soon. String’s big appeal is that it’s mathematically “elegant.” ID’s attempts at building a mathematical framework have consistently been shown to be misrepresentations, misunderstandings, or essentially toothless (i.e. not supporting “design” at all, or even lending support to naturalistic evolution). Basically none of the math side of ID has stood up to scrutiny, whereas with Strings the problem is making them say something different enough from SM that we can look for it in the lab. Unlike the String problem, where instrument sensitivity seems to be the major hurdle to overcome after a bit more tweaking, ID doesn’t appear to be fundamentally testable at all.
The take-away from almost twenty years of this is that ID is purely semantics and misunderstanding, having essentially no functions other than to a) unite normally disparate factions of Creationism behind a common banner for activism, b) make Creationism appear secular enough to enter the public schools, before any research or fleshed-out theory has ever been accumulated.
This view also seems to better explain the real behavior of the ID movement: rather than seeking to publish papers demonstrating the superiority of ID over natural processes re: evolution, it has always been pushed by its own leaders into the popular sphere and away from peer-review. There are two exceptions I can think of where IDists have gotten their literature through scientific venues besides Dembski’s questional paper here: One involved Richard Sternberg ganked up the peer-review process itself to have an ID-friendly paper published. The other involved Jonathan Wells suggesting that centrioles acted like turbines, which doesn’t really have anything to do with suggesting a “designer.”

In the meantime cosmological ID is a competing hypothesis…

It’s not an hypothesis because it’s not even wrong.

Dave Springer said: Many of us on the ID side consider TE to be a specific case of ID.

Dembski apparently doesn’t. Then there’s this piece written from the TE perspective that describes some differences between the basic TE position and the ID one: 1) ID claims that certain features could not have evolved, whereas TE is content to say that they could have, but that God was directing the evolutionary process somehow or allowing it according to some plan. 2) ID presents itself as a secular and scientific approach, suitable even for teaching in public schools; TE is pretty frank in admitting that it’s a religious belief rather than a scientific one (more of a religions interpretation of the findings of science, you might say). 3) TE usually rejects God of the Gaps arguments (Collins’ insistence on morality/evolution not withstanding), whereas ID is basically just God of the Gaps gussied up with shiny secular language. 4) ID appeals to the trappings of science not just in public, but within its own circles, whereas TE generally acknowledges that it’s not science even to itself. The basic divide seems to be that TE does not insist on having physical evidence and scientific claims to verify it, and does not insist that accepted scientific descriptions of nature are wrong as ID does (by insisting that the immune system could not have evolved, for example). TE seems to me to be religious belief tacked onto and distinct from an appreciation for the scientific method: ID instead is a concerted effort to inject religion into the scientific method.

Conflating all ID proponents with YEC is not intellectually honest.

I don’t think anybody here has actually done that. Feel free to point them out if I’m mistaken.

I meant to write: “…so there’s nothing to rule out flicking a magic wand to make it happen, there’s nothing to rule out sneezing complete systems out of a gigantic schnoz in a perfectly intentional manner to produce the Universe or the bacterial flagellum (leaving some things oddly random?), there’s nothing in short to prevent any ridiculous Creation scenario from being accepted, or facilitate accepting one over another.” Got lost under all the editing tape before it went to press.

Mike Elzinga said: Obviously matter and energy are involved, but so is the “eye of the beholder”. What is seen as “significant” or as “information” has little relationship to the physics of matter and energy involved.

Yes. Another problem with Dave’s work/information whopper is that the amount of (human beholder) information often depends on the order in which things occur, while the quantity of work may not.* For instance, it takes the same amount of work to electronically transmit 6 dots and 3 dashes no matter what the order. But the information content depends on the order, both in Shannon terms of dots and dashes and in ‘common sense’ terms where SOS is taken to have more information than DDD.

As Raven and Mike stated, information arises out of physical properties, it is not a separate quantity. There may be some work required to do some physical process, but there is no additional work required when that process produced information. Nature does not and cannot know whether the end state counts as information or not.

*sometimes it does.

This is a paper submitted to a journal for electrical engineering. It covers the dilemma of how the best way to solve a problem is to know the answer in advance. The question is, how much of the answer is needed?

The paper addresses information retrieval and processing in an artificial and controlled environment.

There is no natural analog for this. It does not occur in Nature. If there was a natural analog we would already be using it. If it occurred in nature Dr. Dembski would be submitting the paper to Nature or a similar journal, not a journal for electrical engineering.

Attempting to apply artificial constraints and their solutions to the natural world is delusional at best. Suggesting the results of a study on information retrieval indicates the intervention of a supernatural force is of little merit and even worthy of scorn.

The texture of the “landscape” (ontology) doesn’t determine the functioning of the real world (phylogeny)–no matter how wholistic Dr. Dembski’s metaphysics may be.

Mike Elzinga said:

It is not a good idea to just make up crap. If you don’t know anything about physics, at least have the decency to admit it instead of bluffing and starting a mud wrestling contest.

What mass and/or energy are contained in “information”. By which of the four known forces does “information” interact with other matter and energy in the universe. What potential wells result when “information” is brought into close proximity to other “information” or matter?

Hi Mike,

Leo Szilard said that Maxwell’s Demon would need to have information about the speed of the molecules moving across the boundary in order to admit the fast ones and block the slow ones. He further went on to say that acquiring information takes an expenditure of energy.

So I guess you think Szilard doesn’t know anything about physics either and is just making crap up.

Interesting. Szilard is one of the 20th century’s more renowned physicists. He is credited with One of his academic advisers was Albert Einstein. His credits include being the first person to conceive of the nuclear chain reaction and he shares a patent on nuclear reactors with Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi.

It appears you’re the one without any appreciable understanding of physics.

Take care.

Mike Elzinga said:

It is not a good idea to just make up crap. If you don’t know anything about physics, at least have the decency to admit it instead of bluffing and starting a mud wrestling contest.

What mass and/or energy are contained in “information”. By which of the four known forces does “information” interact with other matter and energy in the universe. What potential wells result when “information” is brought into close proximity to other “information” or matter?

Dave Springer replied:

Hi Mike,

Leo Szilard said that Maxwell’s Demon would need to have information about the speed of the molecules moving across the boundary in order to admit the fast ones and block the slow ones. He further went on to say that acquiring information takes an expenditure of energy.

So I guess you think Szilard doesn’t know anything about physics either and is just making crap up.

It appears you’re the one without any appreciable understanding of physics.

Dave, why do you think these positions are contradictory? Mike was simply asking how you could equate mass and/or energy to “information”. If you don’t know how one equates to the other, you can’t use the relationship as a clincher in you argument. And you don’t have to be much of a physicist to deduce that an energy input must be required to a system sorting molecules by speed, otherwise you have the basis of a perpetual motion machine. This sets a limiting condition for the energy cost of acquiring the “information” required to sort the molecules, and says nothing about the energy cost of “information” in any other context.

Maxwell’s demon was a fiction invented to illustrate a point, so I’m not sure what the point is of arguing about what it would need to actually work. That its existence would break the rules was kind of the point of that story in the first place.

Dave Springer said: It appears you’re the one without any appreciable understanding of physics.

Instead of quotemining famous scientists why don’t you actually discuss your hypothesized energy requirement to produce information?

I transmit 6 dots and 3 dashes electronically in different order combinations. Demonstrate to me that there is extra work required to transmit the combinations that “contain information” versus those that do not.

Eric, you do realize that Dave can’t answer that question? I find it amusing that someone is claiming a knowledge of physics by quoting a hypothetical discussion of a hypothetical demon.

That’s frickin’ hilarious.

Where are the actual answers to the questions posed, Dave? I guess being a retired hack coder doesn’t automatically give you much of an education.

Dave Springer said:

Interesting. Szilard is one of the 20th century’s more renowned physicists. He is credited with One of his academic advisers was Albert Einstein. His credits include being the first person to conceive of the nuclear chain reaction and he shares a patent on nuclear reactors with Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi.

It appears you’re the one without any appreciable understanding of physics.

Take care.

Quoting authorities when you have no comprehension of what they are saying is also a stupid tactic.

You appear to be a fan of “Pastor Bob Enyart” who loves to engage in this type of mud wrestling in order to appear wise and unusually smart, and able to keep up with any and all experts.

Dave, I’d appreciate some sort of acknowledgment on my points. Also, do you know why I never get confirmation e-mails when I try to register at Uncommon Descent?

Hi Eric

Try this little experiment. Turn off your computer so it’s using zero energy then see if you can read those morse codes.

I’d suggest trying that with your brain but that would be mean spirited.

Dave Springer said:

Hi Eric

Try this little experiment. Turn off your computer so it’s using zero energy then see if you can read those morse codes.

I’d suggest trying that with your brain but that would be mean spirited.

Dave:

Eric asked you to compare the energy difference between transmitting

…—…

and transmitting

.-..-..-.

You responded by comparing the energy difference between transmitting

…—…

and transmitting nothing.

The funny part is that you ended by insulating that Eric is stupid!

Dan said:

The funny part is that you ended by insulating that Eric is stupid!

You mean “insinuated”?

Dave Springer said:

Hi Eric

Try this little experiment. Turn off your computer so it’s using zero energy then see if you can read those morse codes.

I’d suggest trying that with your brain but that would be mean spirited.

So how is blubbering about the alleged energy need to send information supposed to demonstrate/prove that mutations do not occur without the direct and magical intervention of an Intelligent Designer? How does putting words into the mouth of a Nobel Prize winning physicist about Maxwell’s hypothetical talk about how a hypothetical demon is responsible for stupid people wanting to remain stupid prove you have a point to make?

Stanton said:

Dan said:

The funny part is that you ended by insulating that Eric is stupid!

You mean “insinuated”?

Yep, thanks. Spelling was never my forte – that’s why I went into science, where the ideas are more important than the expression – but that mistake was especially bad.

Henry J said:

Maxwell’s demon was a fiction invented to illustrate a point, so I’m not sure what the point is of arguing about what it would need to actually work. That its existence would break the rules was kind of the point of that story in the first place.

And the rules are sacrosanct?

This is physics. We run experiments to see if the rules are really rules. We don’t say Mawell’s Demon can’t work cuz it will break the rules.

Try that answer on your Physics Ph.D. qualifying exam.

There is a fair bit of literature regarding the demon, and from what I remember it explains why such a demon even it did exist, and was bounded by other laws like conservation of mass-energy would fail to avert the second law.

Imaginary yes. So were Einstein’s Gedaneken experiments. I don’t think anybody refers to those as a waste of time.

Imaginary or not, it is instructive to consider why the demon fails. “It breaks the rules” is a poor answer. It is these types of thought experiments that allow us to probe physics with our minds.

Stuart Weinstein said:

There is a fair bit of literature regarding the demon, and from what I remember it explains why such a demon even it did exist, and was bounded by other laws like conservation of mass-energy would fail to avert the second law.

Imaginary yes. So were Einstein’s Gedaneken experiments. I don’t think anybody refers to those as a waste of time.

Imaginary or not, it is instructive to consider why the demon fails. “It breaks the rules” is a poor answer. It is these types of thought experiments that allow us to probe physics with our minds.

Indeed, there is quite a bit of literature on it. It is a nice teaching tool.

In the anthropomorphized character of a little demon, it presents a paradox because with such a character we tend to forget that it requires energy in the form of scattered photons or other molecules, at least, to determine the velocities of the gas molecules. When those photons or molecules are scattered from the moving gas molecules, they extract kinetic energy from those gas molecules.

The demon then requires energy to process and implement its decisions and move whatever mechanism it uses to block or unblock molecules.

To move the shutter that it uses to block and unblock molecules, it must use energy to accelerate and decelerate the shutter (the shutter cannot be massless).

During braking, the shutter comes to a halt at the end of each movement, thus energy is dissipated at these times also.

The net result of all this is that the second law of thermodynamics is not violated. The demon thus represents some kind of physical mechanism that ultimately extracts energy from the gas molecules in order to do the work needed to sort them.

Dan said:

Stanton said:

Dan said:

The funny part is that you ended by insulating that Eric is stupid!

You mean “insinuated”?

Yep, thanks. Spelling was never my forte – that’s why I went into science, where the ideas are more important than the expression – but that mistake was especially bad.

One of the lesser known functions of peer review is spell-checking, after all.

Jeffrey Shallitt quoting Meyer Wrote:

p. 293: “Here’s my version of the law of conservation of information: “In a nonbiological context, the amount of specified information initially present in a system Si, will generally equal or exceed the specified information content of the final system, Sf.” This rule admits only two exceptions. First, the information content of the final state may exceed that of the initial state, Si, if intelligent agents have elected to actualize certain potential states while excluding others, thus increasing the specified information content of the system. Second, the information content of the final system may exceed that of the initial system if random processes, have, by chance, increased the specified information content of the system. In this latter case, the potential increase in the information content of the system is limited by the “probabilistic resources” available to the system.

[Emphasis added]

Here it is again; what I have referred to as “The Fundamental Misconception of ID/creationism.” It shows up in other writings of Meyer and in the writings of Dembski, Abel, Behe and all the other ‘fellows” at the DI. It continues to show up in all the incredulous “arguments” of ID/creationist followers.

All this straining on their part about “information theory” and impossibilities is directly related to their underlying misconception (or deliberate misrepresentation) that atoms and molecules just bang off each other elastically unless some “intelligence” produces some kind of arrangements of these.

This notion is utterly false, as anyone who has studied any chemistry and physics knows. The existence of liquids and solids should be a screaming counter-example to them every time they run into walls or choke on their own saliva.

Do they never bang on computer keys? Do they never drink water or coffee or beer? Have they never heard of crystals? Do their glasses never fog up? Have they never seen frost form on windows?

This is simple stuff and easy to observe; any kid can tell you about it. Atoms and molecules interact strongly, especially when they are in close proximity to each other.

And just what are “probabilistic resources?” Dembski and Marks wanted to quantify the amount of “information” provided by a programmer in solving a problem as “active information.” Again they make the explicit misrepresentation of computer algorithms that employ knowledge of nature as being “designed.” The underlying misconception is that “honest” computer models select solutions with uniform randomness from essentially infinite solution sets; and computer models that include “selection criteria” are “designed.”

“Probabilistic resources” is simply a cover-up of their own lack of understanding of how matter interacts. Ultimately, “probabilistic resources” conflates with “intelligence.”

Jeffrey has aptly applied the name “creationist information” to this grotesque attempt of ID/creationists to polish a turd.

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