Semiotic theory of ID

Upright BiPed has been proposing what he has called a “semiotic” theory of Intelligent Design, for a while, which I have found confusing, to say the least.  However, he is honing his case, and asks Nick Matzke

…these three pertinent questions regarding the existence of information within a material universe:

  1. In this material universe, is it even conceivably possible to record transferable information without utilizing an arrangement of matter in order to represent that information? (by what other means could it be done?)
  2. If 1 is true, then is it even conceivably possible to transfer that information without a second arrangement of matter (a protocol) to establish the relationship between representation and what it represents? (how could such a relationship be established in any other way?)
  3. If 1 and 2 are true, then is it even conceivably possible to functionally transfer information without the irreducibly complex system of these two arrangements of matter (representations and protocols) in operation?

… which I think clarify things a little.

I think I can answer them, but would anyone else like to have a go? (I’m out all day today).

A Second Look at the Second Law…

…is the title of Granville Sewell’s manuscript that almost got published in Applied Mathematics Letters last year. It was withdrawn at the last minute by the editor, but you can still download the manuscript from Sewell’s web page. The purpose of this thread is to discuss the technical merits of Sewell’s arguments.

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No Free Lunch

My husband, mother, father, myself, and my four-year-old son were going out for a walk.  It was raining. My son refused (as usual) to wear his raincoat.  Instead, he carried a cup, which he held out in front of him.  He argued that he was going to catch the rain drops in the cup so that by the time he got to the place the raindrops had been, they’d be in the cup and he’d be dry. Half an hour later, four adults were still standing around, drawing diagrams on the backs of envelopes, arguing about Pythagoras and trigonometry, all to no avail.  We went out, with cup, sans rain coat.  My son got wet.  He insisted he remained dry.

Bryce Canyon, Utah.

I’ve got as far as Chapter 5 of Dembski’s book No Free Lunch, the chapter called Evolutionary Algorithms, and about which he says in his Preface: “This chapter is the climax of the book”.  He claims that in it he shows that “An elementary combinatorial analysis shows that evolutionary algorithms can no more generate specified complexity than can five letters fill ten mailboxes.”

I think he’s making the same kind of error as my son made.

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Intelligence and Design.

My copy of No Free Lunch arrived a few days ago, and there are a couple of posts I want to make about it, but the first thing that struck me, reading the preface, and not for the first time, is how little Dembski (and other Intelligent Design proponents) seem to know about either Intelligence or Design.

As it happens, I have a relevant background in both.  I’m a cognitive scientist, and I came into cognitive science from a background in educational psychology, so I’ve always been interested in intelligence – how it works, how it is measured, what factors affect it, etc.  And, somewhat unusually for a cognitive scientist, I also have a training in design – I trained as an architect, a design training that is specifically focussed on “problem solving”, but I also applied that training to other “design” modalities, including composing music, and writing children’s books that attempted to explain something, both to commission, and therefore with a “design brief”.

And in both areas, what is abundantly clear, is that learning is critical.

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Does intelligence violate the 2LoT?

Granville Sewell’s argument that evolution does so, therefore evolution must be caused by intelligence, rests on the odd assertion that intelligence (our own, for instance) does violate the 2LoT.

Bruce David, a UD poster I have a lot of respect for, writes:

I realize that to say that something, anything, violates the Second Law is an anathema to most people who have had a normal scientific education. And I have had the experience on these threads of explaining Dr. Sewell’s point in what I thought was very clearly reasoned prose to people like Elizabeth Liddle, who is intelligent, a scientist, and generally does give her fellow commenters a respectful hearing, only to get the terse response, “Nothing violates the Second Law.”

However, Dr. Sewell’s point, as I understand it, is that both life and human activity in fact do violate the Second Law, and in the case of humans it is clearly our creative intelligence that does this. And if ID is correct, then it is only intelligence that does this. Personally, I think it is a point worth making, even if it falls on deaf ears most of the time. And also, I think that precisely because it contradicts one of the most respected principles of science, and because of the implications for the nature of intelligence and thus the nature of human beings, that it has massive implications for science, philosophy, spirituality, and religion, and therefore, again, needs to be brought to light.

Yes indeed.  If ordinary human intelligence regularly violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that would indeed have massive implications, for all kinds of things, not least our energy requirements.


Creating CSI with NS

Imagine a coin-tossing game.  On each turn, players toss a fair coin 500 times.  As they do so, they record all runs of heads, so that if they toss H T T H H H T H T T H H H H T T T, they will record: 1, 3, 1, 4, representing the number of heads in each run.

At the end of each round, each player computes the product of their runs-of-heads.  The person with the highest product wins.

In addition, there is a House jackpot.  Any person whose product exceeds 1060 wins the House jackpot.

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Dembski’s CSI

(5th April, 2013: stickying this, for a bit, as it has come up.  Mung might like to comment).

Time to look at this in detail, I think 🙂

His definitive paper to date on CSI, is Specification: The Pattern That
Signifies Intelligence.
It is very clearly written, not very mathy, but, by the same token, a paper in which it is easy (IMO) to see where he goes wrong.

Here is the abstract:

ABSTRACT: Specification denotes the type of pattern that highly improbable events must exhibit before one is entitled to attribute them to intelligence. This paper analyzes the concept of specification and shows how it applies to design detection (i.e., the detection of intelligence on the basis of circumstantial evidence). Always in the background throughout this discussion is the fundamental question of Intelligent Design (ID): Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause? This paper reviews, clarifies, and extends previous work on specification in my books The Design Inference and No Free Lunch.

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Why the NDE/ID Debate Is Really (For Most) A Proxy Fight

To define:

NDE (Neo-Darwinian Evolution) = OOL & evolution without prescriptive goals, both being nothing more in essence than functions of material forces & interactions.

ID (Intelligent Design) = Deliberate OOL & evolution with prescriptive goals

(I included OOL because if OOL contains purposefully written code that provides guidelines for evolutionary processes towards goals, then evolutionary processes are not neo-Darwinian as they utilize oracle information).

I’m not an evolutionary biologist, nor am I a mathematician. Therefore, when I argue about NDE and ID, the only cases I attempt to make are logical ones based on principles involved because – frankly – I lack the educational, application & research expertise to legitimately parse, understand and criticize most papers published in those fields. I suggest that most people who engage in NDE/ID arguments (on either side) similarly lack the necessary expertise to evaluate (or conduct) such research on their own.

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Natural selection can put Functional Information into the genome

It is quite common for ID commenters to argue that it is not possible for evolutionary forces such as natural selection to put Functional Information or Specified Information) into the genome. Whether they know it or not, these commenters are relying on William Dembski’s Law of Conservation of Complex Specified information. It is supposed to show that Complex Specified Information cannot be put into the genome. Many people have argued that this theorem is incorrect. In my 2007 article I summarized many of these objections and added some of my own.

One of the sections of that article gave a simple computational example of mine showing natural selection putting nearly 2 bits of specified information into the genome, by replacing an equal mixture of A, T, G, and C at one site with 99.9% C.

This post is intended to show a more dramatic example along the same lines.

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“Tiktaalik”, Why it is a failed Prediction

Tiktaalik is still being used as a successful prediction of something. I know it was supposed to be a successful prediction of universal common descent because it is A) Allegedly a transitional form between fish and tetrapods and B) It was found in the “correct” strata because allegedly no evidence of tetrapods before 385 million years ago- plenty of fish though and plenty of evidence for tetrapods around 365 million years ago- Tiktaalik was allegedly found in strata about 375 million years old- Shubin said that is the strata he looked in because of the 365-385 range already bracketed by existing data.

The thinking was tetrapods existed 365 mya and fish existed 385 mya, so the transition happened sometime in that 20 million years.

Sounds very reasonable. And when they looked they found Tiktaalik and all was good.

Then along comes another find that put the earliest tetrapods back to over 390 million years ago.

Now had this find preceded Tiktaalik then Shubin et al. would not have been looking for the transitional after the transition had occurred- that doesn’t make any sense. And that is why it is a failed prediction- the transition occurred some 25 million years before, Shubin et al., were looking in the wrong strata.

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Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity

Journal club time again 🙂

I like this paper: Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity by Hazen et al, 2007 in PNAS, and which I hadn’t been aware of.

I’ve only had time to skim it so far, but as it seems to be an interesting treatment of the concepts variously referred to by ID proponents as CSI, dFCSI, etc, I thought it might be useful.  It is also written with reference to AVIDA.  Here is the abstract:

Complex emergent systems of many interacting components, including complex biological systems, have the potential to perform quantifiable functions. Accordingly, we define “functional information,” I(Ex ), as a measure of system complexity. For a given system and function, x (e.g., a folded RNA sequence that binds to GTP), and degree of function, Ex (e.g., the RNA–GTP binding energy), I(Ex ) = −log2[F(E x)], where F(Ex ) is the fraction of all possible configurations of the system that possess a degree of function ≥ Ex . Functional information, which we illustrate with letter sequences, artificial life, and biopolymers, thus represents the probability that an arbitrary configuration of a system will achieve a specific function to a specified degree. In each case we observe evidence for several distinct solutions with different maximum degrees of function, features that lead to steps in plots of information versus degree of function.

I thought it would be interesting to look at following the thread on Abel’s paper.  I’d certainly be interested in hearing what our ID contributors make of it 🙂