Upright Biped’s “Semiotic Theory” redux.

I have been having an exchange with Upright Biped here about his perception of how his “semiotic theory of Intelligent Design” has fared among sceptics. In the hope that he will be prepared to re-engage with us in addressing a few outstanding points, I post his argument, originally published at lawyer Barry Arrington’s Uncommon Descent blog

1.  A representation is an arrangement of matter which evokes an effect within a system (e.g. written text, spoken words, pheromones, animal gestures, codes, sensory input, intracellular messengers, nucleotide sequences, etc, etc).


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A (repeated) challenge to Upright Biped

Upright Biped,

Before fleeing the discussion in July, you spent months here at TSZ discussing your “Semiotic Theory of ID”. During that time we all struggled with your vague prose, and you were repeatedly asked to clarify your argument and explain its connection to ID. I even summarized your argument no less than three times (!) and asked you to either confirm that my summary was accurate or to amend it accordingly. You failed to do so, and you also repeatedly refused to answer relevant, straightforward questions from other commenters here.

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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).

Upright BiPed’s Semiotic Argument for Design

In a post here at Uncommon Descent, Upright Biped makes what he calls his Semiotic Argument for Design, which he has been challenging me to refute for some time now, but which I have been struggling to understand.  So it was good to see it summarised in one place, and I’d like to take a look at it piece by piece, and with your help, try to figure out what he’s getting at (I’m assuming he’s a he, which I don’t normally do, but I think he said something once that implied he was).

It’s a response to Larry Moran who dropped by from his Sandwalk blog to talk about onion genomes, but we don’t have to worry about onions too much, I don’t think, as UBP is making a more fundamental claim.

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Where does information come from?

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.

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