RE: [asa] EIC (Evolutionar[il]y Informed Christian)

From: George Cooper <georgecooper@sbcglobal.net>
Date: Wed Dec 17 2008 - 08:57:17 EST

Hi Randy,

 

Very interesting topic.

 

I am curious how you might classify something like the information we get
from a meteorite that reveals its age? Would this be implicit specified
complexity?

 

Coope

 

From: asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu [mailto:asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu] On
Behalf Of Randy Isaac
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 9:34 AM
To: asa@calvin.edu
Subject: Re: [asa] EIC (Evolutionar[il]y Informed Christian)

 

P.S. I should clarify that specified complexity doesn't equate to
information. The concepts are different. Complexity, which is not
information, becomes specified complexity, still not information, when it
matches a prior specification or expectation. That may indicate the action
of an intelligent agent or simply that we don't know the whole story.

 

Randy

----- Original Message -----

From: Randy Isaac <mailto:randyisaac@comcast.net>

To: asa@calvin.edu

Sent: Monday, December 15, 2008 10:07 PM

Subject: Re: [asa] EIC (Evolutionar[il]y Informed Christian)

 

David Clounch wrote:

"2nd subject:
Information surely happens in nature. But it is only meaningful to
intelligent beings. OK, I am thinking about the arrangement of that hedge at
the waterfront in Victoria. The plants might have just blown in with the
wind to form letters in the English language. That is complexity. It could
be all natural. But the fact that they say "Welcome To Victoria"....that
is information. It is the context sensitive aspect that makes it true
information. No amount of arranging of the letters could ever make the
sentence correlate with the knowledge that the city surrounding the hedge is
Victoria. Indeed, due to political upheaval, perhaps next week the city
will be New Mumbai. The point is, we can tell the hedge isnt natural.

The key to detecting an artifact of intelligence, then, is being able to
tell when some arrangement is natural and when it isnt. We might stare
right at it, and if we dont know the city is Victoria, we might think its a
natural arrangement.
Beautiful in its complexity. Completely devoid of information. But does
that mean there isnt information there? Would we have an ability to say
with certitude there is no information? No intelligence visited here? Or
would we merely be lacking a tabla rosa?"

 

Permit me to answer your second question first and then return to your other
very important question.

Your first sentence "information surely happens in nature" continues to
reflect the confusion between information and complexity that I tried to
explain in my previous post. Information, properly understood, doesn't just
happen in nature. It is a meaning assigned to a physical configuration by an
intelligent agent. (Information really is physical, but we'll leave that
debate for a later time). It is not simply "only meaningful to intelligent
beings," it is generated, stored, conveyed, and understood by intelligent
beings.

 

Let me rephrase your question this way. Given a particular pattern in
nature, how do we know whether an intelligent being is using it to store or
transmit information? I don't think we can ever know with certainty that it
isn't. But under what situations can we know with certainty that it is?

 

Virtually all detection of information involves knowing the encryption key
or at least enough about the encryption key to be able to identify the
existence of some information, even if it cannot be fully deciphered. As an
example, consider the electromagnetic radiation impinging on you at this
very moment. Does it contain information? If so, what is it? It seems rather
clear that the vast majority of such radiation comes from the sun and other
parts of the universe and contains no information. But if you're a good ham
operator, you could build a tuner and start amplifying very specific
frequencies. Knowing some basic modulation schemes, you can start decoding
it and determining what information is being conveyed. Maybe it's in Swahili
so you still don't understand it but you can be certain some information is
being transmitted. Similarly, knowing only a few basic encryption methods,
you would soon find countless frequencies that seemed at first to be
gibberish where information is being transmitted. Even without knowing what
the information is, you can tell that information is there.

 

So the question is if we really don't know how information is being encoded,
can we find a way to determine whether information exists or if it is solely
complexity. And now we return to your first question:

"I have a question for Randy. Given the described difference between
complexity and information, would information then be roughly the same as
Dembski's "specified complexity"? I mean, it always seemed to me that
specification, not complexity, was what Dembski was getting at.

I heard you say that information is something that only intelligent beings
recognize. Is this equivalent to specification is something that only
intelligent beings recognize?"

 

The topic of specified complexity is a very good one and relevant to
determining if information is there. First I should say that I do find
Dembski's explanatory filter to be a good concept. It makes sense and is an
aide toward systematically determining whether we are dealing with
complexity or information. I have two concerns about it. 1. It is far too
difficult to actually compute the probabilities involved since we usually
don't know enough about the physical systems in question to do that. and 2.
the filter doesn't provide justification for concluding design by any agent
about which we have no knowledge or experience, hence nothing beyond human
or sentient animals.

 

How does specified complexity differ from complexity? Let's try an analogy.
I believe analogies are not valid in a logical argument but they can be very
useful as illustrations to help us understand difficult concepts. The
oft-used analogy is dealing a deck of cards. If we include the sequence of
the cards, then the number of possibilities is 52! which is a very large
number indeed, around 10^68. Complexity is the arrangement of the cards that
are dealt. What would make it specified? Specification can arise explicitly
or implicitly. Explicit specification would be if, prior to dealing, you
specify which sequence of cards you would like to have in your hand. If that
is precisely what is dealt, you have specified complexity. It would be
pretty amazing and anyone would be justified in suspecting cheating.
Specification can also be implicit. That is, the nature of the face cards
and the numerical values is such that unique patterns are implicit. So
obtaining all the face cards, even if you hadn't explicitly called for that,
would be implicit specificity since those cards have special meaning. Same
with numerical sequences. Specification can also be partial (i.e. calling
for a subset of your hand), though the smaller the size that you specify,
the higher the probability of getting it. The point of this analogy is that
specification has to do with a priori meaning assigned to a sequence of
complexity. If the deck of cards all had only a random mark and no number or
face values, then no specified complexity could exist.

 

How do we apply that to DNA or biochemistry in living cells? Certainly there
is complexity. Is it specified? That's a very good question. And it depends
on your perspective. Since these biochemical structures existed prior to our
being aware of them, there is no way of getting an a priori specification.
So it can't be explicit. But is there an implicit specification? Well, maybe
but maybe not. The ID community would say that in order for a flagellum to
rotate or other irreducibly complex structures to exist, there had to be a
specification of the complexity for that system of molecules. The
counterpoint to that is that it exists because it works. The deck of cards
was dealt until a hand was playable. But neither side is very convincing on
this. Once it exists, it is not possible to determine with certainty whether
it was one of many possibilities that was selected naturally or whether it
was a unique situation that was predetermined.

 

And here comes the theological part. Did God specify the complexity ahead of
time? One might conceivably argue that if human beings with the precise DNA
configuration (within the bounds of human variability) of Homo Sapiens were
the end target, then that is specified complexity. If complexity meets that
specification, one could conceivably argue that it could have happened only
through the purpose of an intelligent agent. And in this regard I quite
agree with the ID community.

 

In fact, here is the dilemma for TE advocates. Atheistic evolutionists would
argue that human beings were not the intent, they just happened to be the
result of evolutionary processes. One of many possibilities. ID argues that
human beings are the intent and to get evolutionary processes to lead to
human beings, the specified complexity, there had to be the involvement of
an intelligent agent. TE, I think, is in a large part similar if not
identical to ID at this 50,000 foot level and differs only when ID tries to
argue its case at the detailed level of specific molecules or processes. TE
also maintains that human beings are God's intended endgame as well as the
result of evolutionary processes. The paradox is resolved by asserting that
God has some unknown method of controlling random processes. And in this
sense also, TE and ID are the same--God controls the evolutionary process in
some undetermined way. The ID folks just think it is a little more obvious
while TE thinks it is more hidden. Not much difference for all the fighting
they're doing. (ok, the fighting is due to a lot of inaccurate thinking at
the detail level)

 

It seems there are a couple of ways out of the dilemma. The robust
formational economy principle that Van Till came up with basically moves
God's involvement from the ongoing randomness back to the very beginning,
often called front-loading in this forum. But that doesn't seem to be
totally satisfactory either. It is still a specified complexity. The other
option is to say that human beings, as we precisely exist, may not have been
the predetermined endpoint. That is, maybe God didn't say that evolution had
to end up with Homo Sapiens. Any species with sufficient consciousness to
perceive his existence and recognize who God is and have a relationship with
Him will do. It turned out to be us! That removes the specification and no
clear intelligence was necessary along the way. Any hand that was dealt was
playable. This seems to be the path that Van Till finally followed. It runs
smack into a lot of theological difficulty and, inevitably, the heresy of
open, or process, theology. Ouch.

 

So, in a much more long winded reply than I intended, Dave, yes specified
complexity is an important part of assessing whether or not some
intelligence was involved in the process. The trick is in knowing just what
it means to be specified. No easy answers.

 

Randy

 

 

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Received on Wed Dec 17 08:58:10 2008

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