I’m starting off this blog with a post about an interesting discussion I’ve been having* on on the Uncommon Descent blog about the claim, frequently made by Intelligent Design proponents, that Chance and Necessity cannot generate information; information can only be generated by a mind.
Clearly, to either support or refute this claim, we need clear conceptual definitions of “Chance and Necessity” and “information”.
William Dembski uses Monod’s terms, “Chance and Necessity” to characterise natural processes, and indeed, devised an Explanatory Filter, for candidate exemplars of information-bearing patterns, whereby, if Chance and Necessity could be serially eliminated, Design could be inferred as the only remaining explanation. There are various ways of defining Chance and Necessity, but for convenience it may be reasonable to regard “Chance” events as unpredictable events (e.g. quantum events) and “Necessity” as reliable physical or chemical laws. In a deterministic universe, of course, once you have a set of starting conditions, all that follows is Necessity, and the opportunities for a Designer lie in specifying the starting conditions in such a way that the willed outcome is inevitable, and/or giving things a poke with a celestial snooker cue to keep them on the willed track. So in a deterministic universe, the ID question would be easy: were the starting conditions willed or a Chance first throw of the dice and/or are the workings-out of those starting conditions left to Necessity or tweaked to suit? In a non-deterministic universe, which it seems we have, Chance has a potentially more interesting and active roll. So the ID question becomes: can the events we observe be explained solely a combination of Chance quantum events and Necessary consequences, or can they be better explained by positing an Intelligent Designer who could affect the way things unfold by nudging quantum Chance and/or the otherwise Necessary consequences?
But what is meant by “information” mean, in the context of the ID claim? On Uncommon Descent, I made the counter-claim that I could demonstrate that Chance and Necessity could indeed generate information, for any regular English usage of the word information.
One of the regular posters there, Upright BiPed, took me up on my claim, and my response was to ask him (or any ID proponent) was to provide me with a conceptual definition of information for which he believed ID claim was true. My plan was then to operationalise the definition to our mutual satisfaction, and then to attempt to make good mine.