Friday, December 18, 2015

Trying to grasp 'Information'

The most recent argument against evolution involves 'information', but they [ID proponents] never seem to explain it in a way that makes any sense.  So I have been searching for an analogy that works, but I keep coming up blank.  Not sure if I am going to reach a conclusion, but a couple of things did strike me.  Let's start with Denyse O'Leary's recent definition of Evolution:

"The mere process of eliminating unfit examples of a type in a given environment builds up information over time, resulting in huge new layers of complexity."
So, according to Denyse - Evolution is a build up of complexity.  That really doesn't ring true for me.  I don't see anything that mandates increases in complexity.  What can be, and has been documented, is that as species evolve, genetic information (genome) changes.  Whether those changes increase, decrease, or don't change the amount of genetic information seems more a matter of measurement than a matter of importance.  There is my first problem, by what standard are they measuring changes in genetic information?  I can't seem to find anything specific on such a measurement.

They offer opinion, calling 'information' complex, but what does that really mean?  Just like 'information, how do you measure complexity?  That's my second problem.  Complexity, recently sort of defined by Wild Bill Dembski, and repeated ad nauseum by little casey luskin, is this:
"something is complex if it is unlikely to occur by chance" (Wikipedia: Specified Complexity)
Now when I went looking for a definition of 'Complexity', I couldn't find a real definition, all I really found was that complexity is a characterization and often an opinion.  For example something might be complex to me may not be complex for someone else.  The most common dictionary definition is:
"the quality or state of not being simple, the quality or state of being complex, a part of something that is complicated or hard to understand" (Merriam-Webster: Complexity)
Of course you can't stop there, you then have to define 'complex':
"a whole made up of complicated or interrelated parts" (Merriam-Webster: Complex)
The problem with 'characteristic' definitions like this is they tend to run you in circles, Complexity leads you to Complex which leads you to Complicated.  Complicated is defined in a way that leads back to Complexity:
"hard to understand, explain, or deal with : having many parts or steps" (Merriam-Webster: Complicated)
I am sure something that doesn't surprise anyone, is that Complexity is defined by the rest of the world considerably different than Dembski's definition.  Just because something is complex, as in a whole made up of interrelated parts and maybe hard to understand, does not mean it is unlikely to occur through a natural process!  The formation of an object that may be defined as complex is not determined by its eventual level of complexity.  That's the opinion part of a characteristic definition.  Dembski, luskin, and the rest of the DI claim that complexity is a measure of unlikelihood, but by what measure?  Is a mountain complex?  Maybe it is or maybe it isn't.  To someone looking at one at a distance and the answer might be 'no', but ask a mountain climber or a geologist and you will get a very different answer.  Even Biblical Literalists like kennie ham agree the Grand Canyon formed by a natural process, he just thinks it happened due to an imaginary flood very quickly rather than millions of years of much smaller changes.  See what I mean by a characterization and opinion?

You might have noticed that I am not using Dembski's term 'Chance'.  I don't like that term mainly because it bring to mind something much more random.  Evolution isn't random, it's more unpredictable, which is not the same thing as being random.  But I've posted about that many times.  Although Darwin used the term 'Random Mutation', when you look at mutations within the context of evolution, any randomness is a very small piece.  Mutations themselves aren't particularly random, often they can be traced back to the genes that changed and resulted in the mutation and unless those genes were present, that specific mutation would not have occurred.  If random mutation was completely random, then anything could happen, regardless of the involved genes.  That isn't the case, unpredictable more than random.

I understand why Dembski uses 'chance', because he wants people to think Evolution is completely random and based on the luck of the draw, so to speak.  It's how he sells his argument of the impossibility of evolution. 

But, back to the discussion at hand, the reality is there is nothing anyone has published says complexities in nature cannot occur through a natural process.  They [ID proponents] feel that complexity is unlikely to occur, but that's an unsupported opinion, not based on facts.  Yes, they can call up examples of complex things that occur rarely, but by the same token there are a great many things considered complex that happen often through natural means.  What I think happened here is Dembski made up his own definition of 'complexity' and then started using it as if the world would automatically buy into it.  Is a tree complex?  And yet they grow everywhere and plant evolution is well supported.

While I was in the middle of my mental meanderings, little casey luskin, you know the 'lawyer' tasked with handing out press releases during the Dover Trial.  Well it seems he took a stab at the information argument and he really just muddied up the waters more than provided any clarification.  Here is a link to his post: "A Taxonomy of Information".  The main reason I read it is he started something potentially intriguing . . . and to be honest I usually don't make it past a few lines of most of casey's posts.  I've commented on him many times, but much less often than he posts himself.  But this time he said:
"What are some common definitions of information, and which definition is most useful for making the design inference?"
As you can imagine, I was hoping that the DI would actually pin down the definition of information that might bring some sense to their whole information argument. But, they didn't.  All little casey really did was pile on a bunch of nonsense and then use such nonsense in an effort to justify their shared religious belief.  They jump from a poor series of 'information' explanations right into their favorite topic 'Complex Specified Information' without making any connection.  From there little case' repeats stuff from Dembski on 'complexity' and he's off and running down a winding path that doesn't lead to anything resembling a conclusion.  At one point he says:
"It's important to understand that the idea of complex and specified information is NOT an invention of ID proponents."
Which isn't totally true.  Yes, the term did not originate with the DI, but Dembski's use of the term is certainly did!  To quote Wikipedia again:
" . . .whereas Orgel used the term [specified complexity] for biological features which are considered in science to have arisen through a process of evolution, Dembski says that it describes features which cannot form through "undirected" evolution—and concludes that it allows one to infer intelligent design. While Orgel employed the concept in a qualitative way, Dembski's use is intended to be quantitative." (Wikipedia: Specified Complexity)
OK, you can read Casey's little diatribe on your own time.  I think I've given him more than enough attention here.  Let's go back to the 'information' argument and try and sum up where my thinking has been going.  First let's add in the basic definition of Intelligent Design:
"The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."
The phrase that sticks with me is "best explained".  What they seem to be saying is their explanation is best because the genome is complex and complexity can only come from intelligence and not natural processes.  The only point of agreement is that the genome is complex, that is it has a great many pieces and parts.  But the fact of complexity in no way requires an intelligence.  Inventing things like specified complexity to 'explain' things fails if they cannot back it up with reality instead of wishful thinking.  The whole 'information argument' is rapidly turning into a re-statement of the old 'odds argument'.

You might remember the odds argument.  It was personified when Fred Hoyle made an analogy comparing Evolution to a tornado through a junk yard building a 747.  It was further compounded with some folks claiming to have calculated the odds of the human genome being in existence.  Yet the odds argument doesn't work.  It's like the lottery.  Before you buy a ticket, you can calculate the odds of winning because you know the parameters you are operating within.  Do we know the parameters for the formation of life?  No, and any claims to the contrary are selling one version of snake oil or another.

Let me repeat my favorite analogy about the odds argument.  Take a plain deck of playing cards and shuffle them up.  Deal them out face-up so you can see them all.  Do you see the order they are in?  What are the odds of them being in that order? 52! (52 factorial).  Pretty damn astronomical.  Now the question is did you beat the odds?  Be honest!

The answer, of course, is no.  Unless you predicted that exact order before you started dealing them out, you haven't beaten the odds at all.  Now, what are the odds of those cards being in some order?  Right, 100%.  Without the prediction, the odds are meaningless. 

Let's try one more analogy, start with the number 1 and add 1, you get 2, then add another 1, and you get 3 . . . adding one to a number is a very simple process.  Is there a limit?  Of course not.  We have frequently stated that numbers simply keep going, toward a fairly esoteric idea called 'infinity'.  But that number will pretty quickly reach a level where it is literally incomprehensible to us human beings.  Oh, in the abstract, we can deal with such large numbers by changing the way we express them in various ways to bring them down to a comprehensible level, but something like 1.0 x 10100 is given the name 'googol', another impossibly large number, a googolplex is equivalent to 1.0 x 10googol.  The estimate of counting up to a googol would take an estimated 5 x 1090 centuries (at 2 numbers per second).  Can you even imagine how long it would take to count up to a googolplex? Based on that, wouldn't such a number be 'hard to understand'?  So it meets one of the common definitions for 'complex'. 

So here we have something created through a simple process that eventually reaches a point where it is barely comprehensible without some esoteric methods of reference, like scientific notation or categorizing with a cute name. I know this isn't a complete analogy, but then what analogy completely represents anything anyway?  But look at how a simple process can eventually add up to levels of complexity that require us to take significant steps to be able to comprehend.  Even then, do most folks really understand numbers that large?

To use this analogy on Intelligent Design, it seems that we start with 1, and add 1, then add another 1 . . . and we reach a point of comprehensibility where we cannot add another number.  To make the jump to a larger number some external factor (intelligence . . . or to be honest, a Deity) must be added because of our inability to comprehend such complex things.  And yet for this to be true, there has to be some barrier that cannot be breached.  Have ID proponents offered up anything resembling a barrier?  Not yet and not for a lack of trying. 

Life evolved and continues to evolve without any evidence of the actions of a capricious deity.  The information argument doesn't really seem to mean much of anything.

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