Active information defined… for the fourth time in nine years?

Yesterday, a couple of folks let me know of a paper that crypto-creationist [ETA: perhaps under reform] George Montañez had just posted at arXiv, “The Famine of Forte: Few Search Problems Greatly Favor Your Algorithm.” Below you’ll find my response to one of them. I should explain a few things, by way of introduction.

Montañez is a former advisee of the “Charles Darwin of intelligent design,” Baylor University professor Robert J. Marks II. Last I heard, he was pursuing doctoral studies in machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University. He worked not only with Marks, but also with William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of information theory,” and Winston Ewert, the “Pooh Bear of evolutionary informatics,” on applications of measures of active information. He is still affiliated with them at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab. I refer to the core of affiliates who actually contribute to the output of the Lab — Marks, Dembski, Ewert, and Montañez — as Team EIL. The first three of them have a book scheduled for release by World Scientific on January 30, 2017. The title is Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics. I am trying to pull together a series of posts with the same title.

My email note follows.

[ETA: George Montañez has kindly responded here at TSZ. Contrary to what I guess below, he is not presently collaborating with the authors of the book.]

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Evidence of greater interest in the Flying Spaghetti Monster than in ID

When the Click Whore of Babylon appeals to her own authority, the chances are high that her rhetoric is designed to conceal an intolerable truth:

My sense, based on some years of coverage at Uncommon Descent, is that Pastafarianism has changed its focus. […] They could not stay in the game with ID indefinitely because they would need to be something other than just a big practical joke that went on way too long.

My response to her pulling stuff out of her ass is of course not to pull stuff out of my ass, but instead to look for evidence. What came immediately to mind was to plug the terms “Flying Spaghetti Monster” and “intelligent design” into Google Trends.

Interest in FSM and ID Since 2004

According to Google Trends, interest in "Flying Spaghetti Monster" has been

According to Google Trends, interest in “intelligent design” (red) has declined steadily since the Dover trial. Interest in “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (blue) has plateaued.

Interest in FSM and ID over the Past Five Years

According to Google Trends, there has been more interest in the Flying Spaghetti Monster than in "intelligent design" crypto-creationism over the past five years.

According to Google Trends, there has been more interest in “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (blue) than in “intelligent design” (red) over the past five years. The average levels of interest in the FSM and ID are, respectively, 20 and 12.

The parody of religion evidently has greater staying power than the parody of science.

Mung, a theistic evolutionist who disagrees with some of his kind

Mung: What I Believe

I am neither YEC nor OEC, so don’t really know of a label I can give you.

I accept that the universe is old, that the earth is old. No problem with dating as provided by the latest science.

I am a theist and a Christian. I am not a deist. I am not a naturalist. I reject the idea of “nature acting alone.”

I believe the universe is created and sustained by God I believe the same of all living beings. I accept common descent or descent with modification as the best explanation for the history of life on earth, but reject the idea that this happens without God (by a random undirected process).

I’ve not identified myself as a theistic evolutionist because I find myself in disagreement with theistic evolutionist authors.

So the best description I can offer is “intelligent design” proponent.
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The Big Tent of Babel

The intelligent-design movement is, by design, a big tent accommodating almost everyone who has something to say against “Darwinism.” How kooky is too kooky for admission? Well, the Raelian movement’s Message from the Designers may be out, but the Unification Church’s message from Moon is definitely in.

Evolution News and Views (ENV), ID’s blog of record, is consequently a wellspring of incoherence. It recently posted a lame argument by geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig that survival is “too random” for natural selection to “work.” Geneticist (of high renown) Joe Felsenstein has just responded at The Panda’s Thumb. He mentions that the Discovery Institute also released a podcast interview of Lönnig. Checking it out, I find this teaser by David Klinghoffer, the editor of ENV: Continue reading

Creationism’s best friend has died

It was not merely Judge John E. Jones who ruled against teaching “intelligent design” (ID), a thinly veiled surrogate for “creation science,” in public schools. The citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania, exercised the power of the ballot to ensure that their city did not appeal Kitzmiller. If the case had reached the Supreme Court of the United States, the justices possibly would have split 5-4 in favor of allowing public schools to teach ID.

Today ID lost its prospect of winning in the Supreme Court: Justice Antonin Scalia, Known For Biting Dissents, Dies At 79. As noted in the Wikipedia article on Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), in which the court nailed shut the coffin of creation science,

Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, dissented, accepting the Act’s stated purpose of “protecting academic freedom” as a sincere and legitimate secular purpose. They construed the term “academic freedom” to refer to “students’ freedom from indoctrination”, in this case their freedom “to decide for themselves how life began, based upon a fair and balanced presentation of the scientific evidence”.

Has quite a familiar ring, doesn’t it? The rhetoric of the ID movement was designed by a law professor, Phillip Johnson, to suit a creationism-friendly judge of the Law of the Land. This is indeed a sad day for ID, which already had acquired a moribund pallor.

The Law of Conservation of Information is defunct

About a year ago, Joe Felsenstein critiqued a seminar presentation by William Dembski, “Conservation of Information in Evolutionary Search.” He subsequently discussed Dembski’s primary source with me, and devised a brilliant response, unlike any that I had considered. This led to an article, due mostly to Felsenstein, though I contributed, at The Panda’s Thumb. Nine days after it appeared, Dembski was asked in a radio interview whether anyone was paying attention to his technical work. Surely a recipient of

qualifies as a someone. But Dembski changed the topic. And when the question came around again, he again changed the topic. Mind you, this isn’t how I know that Felsenstein blasted conservation of “information,” which is not information, in evolutionary “search,” which does not search. It’s how I know that Dembski knows.

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A question for Barry Arrington

He has reified the abstract concept of gravity and attributed casual [sic] powers to the reified concept. It is easy to fall into that hole, and we should all watch out for it.
Barry Arrington, June 18, 2015 at 3:10 pm

I hear from intelligent-design proponents that information is neither matter nor energy, is conserved by material processes, and is created only by intelligence. Would you please explain how they determined that intelligence is real, and not merely an abstraction? I’d like to see you contrast it with gravity.

Uncommon Descent is starving

If Uncommon Descent (UD) is not suffering from our departure, then why has the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture stooped to lame promotion of the site? I’m referring to an ID the Future podcast, “Eric Anderson: Probability & Design.” It begins with Casey Luskin singing the praises of UD.

[Eric Anderson…] for the past year has been a contributing author about intelligent design at the great intelligent design blog, Uncommon­Descent.com. So, quick plug for Uncommon Descent. If you’re an “ID the Future” listener and you’ve never checked it out, go to Uncommon­Descent.com. And it’s a great ID blog, kind of like EvolutionNews.org. It has many participants, and many contributors, of which Eric is one of the main authors there.

And it ends with Casey Luskin steering listeners to UD.

And I would encourage our listeners to go check out the blog Uncommon Descent. That’s Uncommon, and the last word is spelled D-E-S-C-E-N-T, dot com. So “descent” like you’re going down into something. So Uncommon­Descent.com.

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A question for Winston Ewert

Added June 17, 2015: Jump in with whatever comments you like, folks. Dr. Ewert has responded nebulously at Uncommon Descent. I’d have worked with him to get his meaning straight. I’m not going to spend my time on deconstruction. However, I will take quick shots at some easy targets, mainly to show appreciation to Lizzie for featuring this post as long as she has. Here, again, is what I put to Dr. Ewert:

Your “search” process decides when to stop and produce an outcome in the “search space.” A model may do this, but biological evolution does not. How do you measure active information on the biological process itself? Do you not reify a model?

Dr. Ewert seemingly forgets that to measure active information on a biological process is to produce a specific quantity, e.g., 109 bits.

One approach is to take the search space not to be the individual organisms, but rather the entire population of organisms currently alive on earth. Or one could go further, and take it to be the history of organisms during the whole of biological evolution. One could also take it to be possible spacetime histories. The target can then be taken to be spacetimes, histories, or populations that contain an individual organism type such as birds.

These “search spaces” roll off the tongue. But no one knows, or ever will know, what they actually contain. Even if we did know, no one would know the probabilities required for calculation of the active information for a given target. And even if we did know the probability of a given “target” for a given “search,” we would not be able to justify designating a particular probability distribution on the search space as the “natural” baseline. By the way, Dr. Ewert should not be alluding to infinite sets, as his current model of search applies only to finite sets.

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