Stephen Meyer’s Bogus Information Theory

| 101 Comments

A couple of months ago, I finished a first reading of Stephen Meyer’s new book, Signature in the Cell. It was very slow going because there is so much wrong with it, and I tried to take notes on everything that struck me.

Two things struck me as I read it: first, its essential dishonesty, and second, Meyer’s significant misunderstandings of information theory. I’ll devote a post to the book’s many mispresentations another day, and concentrate on information theory today. I’m not a biologist, so I’ll leave a detailed discussion of what’s wrong with his biology to others.

In Signature in the Cell, Meyer talks about three different kinds of information: Shannon information, Kolmogorov information, and a third kind that has been invented by ID creationists and has no coherent definition. I’ll call the third kind “creationist information”.

101 Comments

If you can’t back up your claim that “specified information” only comes from a mind, repeat it over and over again. That’s one reason he wrote more than 500 pages.

Meanwhile, he explained nothing about the incongruities of biological information with that of information known from actual designs. That’s another reason he wrote more than 500 pages, in order to avoid dealing with the details of biology.

Glen Davidson

http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

Yes, somehow creationists are always concerned with evidence for design, but never seriously consider how our examples of human design differ in many ways from what we see in biology. In particular, they don’t seem to have seriously addressed Mark Isaak’s article.

I note Meyer also has a tendency (in those quotes) to use the weasel word ‘large’. I guess whenever a biologist demonstrates evolution has produced useful information, he’ll just claim the amount isn’t large enough to count as a violation of his rules.

The focus on “large amounts of specified information” (my emphasis) also reduces his entire book to a strawman argument, since the TOE neither predicts nor expects saltation. It is the compounding of small changes across generations that makes net change in the genome large. If “small” amounts of specified information can be produced naturally under Meyer’s (false and arbitrary) limits, this allows evolution and speciation to occur. In other words, you could believe what he says about information and he’d still be wrong about design being necessary in biology.

I’ll call the third kind “creationist information”.

I call it Dembski information. The units are dits.

As in being ditszy, I suppose:

Matt Young said:

I’ll call the third kind “creationist information”.

I call it Dembski information. The units are dits.

Jeffrey -

Thanks for yet another insightful post. Maybe you can enlighten BioLogos’s Darrel Falk, who contends that there is some utility in Intelligent Design based on its interest in biological “information”. Even after I pointed out that you, among others, have rejected the “importance” of this work, he still believes that there is this utility.

MACROEVOLUTIONISTS THINK ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN RANDOM EXPLOSIONS. IT IS NOT TRUE. THE VOLCANO VESUVIUS DESTROYED THE CITY OF POMPEII; IT DID NOT BUILD A BETTER CITY ON TOP OF IT. INFORMATION THEORY PROVES CITIES HAVE TOO MUCH COMPLEX SPECIFIED INFORMATION TO EMERGE WITHOUT INTELLIGENT DESIGN, AND EVEN A PROKARYOTIC CELL HAS MORE BITS OF COMPLEX SPECIFIED INFORMATION THAN A CITY, AND A EUKARYOTIC CELL HAS EVEN MORE. THE DARWINIACS HAVE YET TO SHOW ONE CITY THAT WAS BUILT BY A VOLCANO, AVALANCHE, OR OTHER NATURAL DISASTER. UNTIL THEY DO, THEIR THEORY REMAINS UNPROVED!

As in being ditszy, I suppose:

I don’t know; I can’t read Hungarian.

Your GOD is not as powerful as the Klingon Deities who were killed or banished outright from the Klingon Homeworld, Qo’nos. Go back from whence thy came from,somewhere deep below, in the realm known as Hades:

yum install Jesus said:

MACROEVOLUTIONISTS THINK ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN RANDOM EXPLOSIONS. IT IS NOT TRUE. THE VOLCANO VESUVIUS DESTROYED THE CITY OF POMPEII; IT DID NOT BUILD A BETTER CITY ON TOP OF IT. INFORMATION THEORY PROVES CITIES HAVE TOO MUCH COMPLEX SPECIFIED INFORMATION TO EMERGE WITHOUT INTELLIGENT DESIGN, AND EVEN A PROKARYOTIC CELL HAS MORE BITS OF COMPLEX SPECIFIED INFORMATION THAN A CITY, AND A EUKARYOTIC CELL HAS EVEN MORE. THE DARWINIACS HAVE YET TO SHOW ONE CITY THAT WAS BUILT BY A VOLCANO, AVALANCHE, OR OTHER NATURAL DISASTER. UNTIL THEY DO, THEIR THEORY REMAINS UNPROVED!

Jesus:

Information theory, even creationist information theory, has nothing to do with “building a better city”. The notion of “better” doesn’t exist in information theory.

Explosions are a poor analogy with mutation+selection.

And finally, your argument is not improved by shouting.

YUM YUM THINK ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN NON-RANDOM MIRACLES . IT IS NOT TRUE. THE VOLCANO VESUVIUS DESTROYED THE CITY OF POMPEII; IT DID NOT INVOLVE ANY PUNISHMENT FROM GOD. INFORMATION THEORY PROVES THAT COMPLEX SPECIFIED INFORMATION IS PURE CRAP AND SO IS INTELLIGENT DESIGN, AND EVEN A PROKARYOTIC CELL HAS NO BS INFORMATION, AND A EUKARYOTIC CELL HAS SOME BUT WE CANT SAY HOW MUCH THAT COULD ALL BE PRODUCED BY NATURAL MEANS. THE CREATIONISTS HAVE YET TO SHOW ONE THING THAT WAS BUILT BY A MIRACLE, OR OTHER NON-NATURAL PROCESS. UNTIL THEY DO, THEIR SO CALLED THEORY REMAINS COMPLETELY UNSCIENTIFIC!

YUM: ON THE LEFT EDGE OF YOUR KEYBOARD THERE IS A KEY NAMED “CAPS LOCK”. IT”S PURPOSE IS TO MAKE YOUR RANTS READABLE.

USE IT (Caps) like this. Now your rants will be in sentence case, which is actually readable, if not any more sensical.

Additionally, on the right edge of your keyboard is an L-shaped key labeled “Enter”.

You use this key to make things called “paragraphs”. Paragraphs separate things called “thoughts” and again, make your rant more readable.

You use it like this (enter)(enter)

First nonsensical thought (enter)(enter)

Initial non-sequitor (enter)(enter)

Long list of subsequent non-sequitors (enter)(enter)

See?

I had the thought the other day that there is a central flaw in all creationist claims about information.

In all legitimate information theories, information is implicitly created by the observer. Something that is “noise” to me may be information to you.

Creationists always claim that intelligence must be created for the observer. A magic “designing” “intelligence” had to create something before it became information.

This quickly leads to absurd conclusions. If I decided to measure the weights of individual grains of sand from a sample for some reason, that distribution becomes information from my observer perspective. Therefore, by “creationist information theory”, the grains of sand must have been “designed by an intelligence”.

yum install Jesus said:

MACROEVOLUTIONISTS THINK ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN RANDOM EXPLOSIONS. IT IS NOT TRUE.

Well, it is certainly not true that “macroevolutionists” think all things happen in random explosions.

HE VOLCANO VESUVIUS DESTROYED THE CITY OF POMPEII; IT DID NOT BUILD A BETTER CITY ON TOP OF IT.

What ho, a Poe!

Glen Davidson said:

If you can’t back up your claim that “specified information” only comes from a mind…

The lovely thing about this claim is that it doesn’t need to be backed up, since the definition of “specified information” is that it is “information” that has been “specified” by a “specifier”. And only a “mind” can be a “specifier”.

Thus, the statement

“Experience shows that large amounts of specified complexity or information (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source…

conveniently translates to “Experience shows that large amounts of information that can only originate from an intelligent source invariably originate from an intelligent source.”

No problems here.

Thank you, Dr. Shallit. I was interested to see a poster on Telic Thoughts lay down a challenge to “go where reviewers are reluctant to trod”, namely to point out specific problems in Meyer’s facts and reasoning, and to back up our criticisms. I submit that anyone who considers this task to be challenging has not read the book very carefully.

A real challenge would be to point out all of the problems in the book. I’ve been working on chapters 4, 8, 13, and 16, as time permits, and it’s looking to take quite a while.

As I said on your blog, JS:

p. 258 “If a process is orderly enough to be described by a law, it does not, by definition, produce events complex enough to convey information.”

Somebody call Johannes Kepler, there’s no way to know where the planets are!!!ONE!!!

There are errors on virtually every page. If this book was published by HarperCollin’s science division, it wouldn’t have passed muster:

R0b said:

Thank you, Dr. Shallit. I was interested to see a poster on Telic Thoughts lay down a challenge to “go where reviewers are reluctant to trod”, namely to point out specific problems in Meyer’s facts and reasoning, and to back up our criticisms. I submit that anyone who considers this task to be challenging has not read the book very carefully.

A real challenge would be to point out all of the problems in the book. I’ve been working on chapters 4, 8, 13, and 16, as time permits, and it’s looking to take quite a while.

RDK - I too once thought that the Jeebus yum was a Poe, but if you go to his website, you will see a virtual self-spammed site reeking of flat-earthism and other freakish stuff.

If it’s a Poe, it’s a damn good one, ONE THAT SHOULD BE POSTING OFTEN AT UD! (That is Dembski’s Uncommon Descent site for the unitiated). IF I WERE A JEEBUS YUM, OR EVEN A POE, I WOULD GET OVER ASAP TO UD AND SAVE SOME DAMN SOULS!

DO IT FOPR THE KIDZ.

stevaroni said:

YUM: ON THE LEFT EDGE OF YOUR KEYBOARD THERE IS A KEY NAMED “CAPS LOCK”. IT”S PURPOSE IS TO MAKE YOUR RANTS READABLE.

USE IT (Caps) like this. Now your rants will be in sentence case, which is actually readable, if not any more sensical.

Additionally, on the right edge of your keyboard is an L-shaped key labeled “Enter”.

You use this key to make things called “paragraphs”. Paragraphs separate things called “thoughts” and again, make your rant more readable.

You use it like this (enter)(enter)

First nonsensical thought (enter)(enter)

Initial non-sequitor (enter)(enter)

Long list of subsequent non-sequitors (enter)(enter)

See?

Additionally, you have other keys at your disposal (command-back arrow, for example, which allows you to escape - without harm - the Panda’s Thumb web page which so perplexes you) which will save you considerable time, and from embarrassing yourself so thoroughly. This has the additional benefit of preventing you from learning anything, so your worldview will not have to budge one iota. Good luck with the internets!

fnxtr said:

As I said on your blog, JS:

p. 258 “If a process is orderly enough to be described by a law, it does not, by definition, produce events complex enough to convey information.”

Somebody call Johannes Kepler, there’s no way to know where the planets are!!!ONE!!!

Yikes, he just eliminated the entire field of chaos “by definition”!

Oops; I posted this on the wrong thread. Here it is again.

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.

I’ll call the third kind “creationist information”.

Sounds like an oxymoron to me. :)

Henry

stevaroni said:

YUM: ON THE LEFT EDGE OF YOUR KEYBOARD THERE IS A KEY NAMED “CAPS LOCK”. IT”S PURPOSE IS TO MAKE YOUR RANTS READABLE.

USE IT (Caps) like this. Now your rants will be in sentence case, which is actually readable, if not any more sensical.

Additionally, on the right edge of your keyboard is an L-shaped key labeled “Enter”.

You use this key to make things called “paragraphs”. Paragraphs separate things called “thoughts” and again, make your rant more readable.

You use it like this (enter)(enter)

First nonsensical thought (enter)(enter)

Initial non-sequitor (enter)(enter)

Long list of subsequent non-sequitors (enter)(enter)

See?

In addition, you have the right to remain silent. If you choose to give up that right, anything you type, in any case, can and will be used against you as evidence of your mental incompetency.

fnxtr said:

As I said on your blog, JS:

p. 258 “If a process is orderly enough to be described by a law, it does not, by definition, produce events complex enough to convey information.”

Somebody call Johannes Kepler, there’s no way to know where the planets are!!!ONE!!!

Yikes, there goes the law of Segregation and the Law of Independent Assortment. I mean, if DNA molecules of DNA and genomes are produced by such processes, then either there is no information in genomes or these are not laws. Since we know the underlying mechanisms for these processes, they certainly are laws. So much for the creationist idea that there is too much information in a genome to have arisen naturally. Glad that’s settled.

Excellent review. If still available I’ll try to reference it on the Amazon site.

The arguments used by Meyer are understandable in the sense that they appear logical, rational, and scientific. However, considering the fact that Meyer’s audience is the fundamentalist churchies who eat up this crap and have NO understanding of science, it all sounds so plausible to them. Thus the Dishonesty Institute is making headway on their wedgies by duping their flocks into this error filled book, sorry, “book of the century” I think some reviewer called it.

Here’s a very odd claim from Thomas Nagel (original source is TLS letters):

Fletcher says I have been duped, and his reference to Uri Geller suggests that Meyer’s book is a deliberate hoax – that he has offered evidence and arguments that he knows to be false. Like any layman who reads books on science for the general reader, I have to take the presentation of the data largely on trust, and try to evaluate more speculative arguments as best I can. Meyer’s book seems to me to be written in good faith. If he misrepresents contemporary research on the origin of life, I will be grateful to have it pointed out to me. But the RNA world hypothesis Fletcher offers as a refutation is carefully described by Meyer, who argues that while it might help solve some problems (in virtue of the catalytic properties of RNA), it simply pushes back to a different molecule the basic question of how such an extremely complex replicator came into existence, thus allowing natural selection to begin.

[Bolding added]

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress[…]omment-17732

Really, a book relying on Dembski’s vacuous nonsense was written in “good faith”? Maybe, if you make generous allowances for Meyer’s implicit belief in theism and lack of response or apparent consideration of all of the criticisms of ID. That does not amount to intellectual honesty, however, and it is difficult for me to accept anything as intellectual dishonest as Meyer’s work as if it were “written in good faith” as that is typically understood.

I believe that Shallit is far closer to the truth with:

Two things struck me as I read it: first, its essential dishonesty

Glen Davidson

http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

THE VOLCANO VESUVIUS DESTROYED THE CITY OF POMPEII; IT DID NOT BUILD A BETTER CITY ON TOP OF IT.

HOW DO YOU KNOW? WERE YOU THERE?

Nagal wrote:

“But the RNA world hypothesis Fletcher offers as a refutation is carefully described by Meyer, who argues that while it might help solve some problems (in virtue of the catalytic properties of RNA), it simply pushes back to a different molecule the basic question of how such an extremely complex replicator came into existence, thus allowing natural selection to begin.”

Actually that’s not a very big problem at all. First, the precursors of ribonucleotides are some of the most likely molecules to form under the conditions of the primitive earth. Second, ribonucleiotides can be polymerized by chemical reaction catalyzed by things other than proteins. Third, RNA molecules can serve as templates for their own replication and can catalyze their own replication. Taken together, these observations mean that it extremely likely that such a replicating system could arise and undergo selection, given the conditions of the primitive earth. It certainly doesn’t solve all the problems, but it does go a long way.

OMFG. What ARE you babbling about? I was talking about Abbie and Miss Colgate. I had no idea you were in trouble somewhere else. Geez. John. Can’t you EVER behave?

Please dump all this stuff; I doubt John wants this public.

John Kwok said:

And no, I did not use the social networking site in question to find my date. We met in person last summer, long before I knew we were both members of the same site:

John Kwok said:

Now the real reason for RG’s harassment of me comes out. The trouble with her line of thinking - and you know this DH - I haven’t been involved in cyberstalking of women elsewhere at a popular social networking site, and none of the women I do know would make this bizarre accusation, especially the one I am currently dating:

Dale Husband said:

Rilke’s granddaughter said:

Dale, I normally leave John alone. But he’s a cyberstalker of women, and that bears watching. Do you enjoy him constantly whining about his latest blog-banning?

It’s not about what I enjoy or don’t enjoy, but about what is appropriate. Which is why I admonished both of you.

I agree John could write less about things of interest to very few people beside himself. OTOH, I cant see RG’s comments add much of value to this thread either. Although I don’t know about other threads.

Why not use e-mail?

So anyway, about Myers’ so-called theory… a book that contains, as DA would say, a “strange usage of the word information I wasn’t previously aware of”, actually contains no new information whatsoever.

There’s one for Alanis.

Oh dear. Meyer’s. Sorry, PZ.

Did any of you even read Dr. Meyer’s book?? He addresses all of the above issues in detail. Try reading the book then get back to me for some serious debate!

eq said:

Try reading the book then get back to me for some serious debate!

Sounds like a deal. Please stand by until I get back to you.

eq said:

Did any of you even read Dr. Meyer’s book?? He addresses all of the above issues in detail. Try reading the book then get back to me for some serious debate!

It’s not clear why you would insist that everybody read every word that every ID/creationist writes every time an ID/creationist writes something. ID/creationists recycle most of their misconceptions without correction; and they have been doing this for over 40 years.

Most of us have read and understood the foundational misconceptions of the major ID/creationist writers. Once we understand those misconceptions, and once we see them being used throughout all the ID/creationist writings (including this latest book by Meyer), it is no longer necessary to plow thorough all the ramblings in the rest of the screed. We already know they are wrong.

Conclusions and claims based on grotesque misconceptions are not worth the time to critique. If the foundational misconceptions are still in play, the ID/creationist is simply attempting to find different ways to spread the same misconceptions. Forty years of this crap is more than enough to allow for informed judgement.

Aw, you’re too serious MrE. I was amused by the “serious debate” remark. Every time I hear a creationist say something along such lines I back up, since it’s likely to be followed by the heel of his boot planted firmly midway between my hip joints.

MrG said:

Aw, you’re too serious MrE. I was amused by the “serious debate” remark. Every time I hear a creationist say something along such lines I back up, since it’s likely to be followed by the heel of his boot planted firmly midway between my hip joints.

:-)

LOL!

eq said:

Did any of you even read Dr. Meyer’s book?? He addresses all of the above issues in detail. Try reading the book then get back to me for some serious debate!

So tell us why Dr Meyer’s thesis, i.e., “I think cells and life are complicated, therefore GODDESIGNER” is supposed to engender “serious debate.”

As far as I’ve seen, no Intelligent Design proponent is interested in “serious debate,” whether concerning Intelligent Design, or science in general.

I have read it. Nothing about it seems to call for debate, since I do not see that Meyer has made a coherent argument on any particular point. Are there some specific topics you feel command attention?

eq said:

Did any of you even read Dr. Meyer’s book?? He addresses all of the above issues in detail. Try reading the book then get back to me for some serious debate!

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This page contains a single entry by Jeffrey Shallit published on January 13, 2010 10:05 AM.

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