Winston Ewert, William A. Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II rebranded specified complexity as a measure of meaningful information, at the Engineering and Metaphysics 2012 Conference. In my mind, that was quite a remarkable event in the history of the “intelligent design” (ID) offshoot of “creation science” — particularly in light of the fact that Dembski and Marks changed the meaning of information in the Law of Conservation of Information from specified complexity to active information, back in 2008. But the organizer of that conference, Jonathan Bartlett, seems not to have noticed. He recently undertook to explain algorithmic specified complexity to the unwashed masses, but made no mention at all of meaning.
Tom English asked about Hermit Crabs forming a line. I agree that this exhibits high ASC for certain things (remember, ASC depends on what you are comparing it to). It gives a high ASC for the line compared to the hermit crabs just walking around. That seems like a success, not a fail, as you have successfully determined that they are lined up intentionally. Even though you don’t have all of the prerequisites for a design inference (at least in your post here), you have at least shown that intentionality on behalf of the hermit crabs is a live possibility. Since they are lining up for a particular purpose, that seems to line up with reality.
He has not responded to my main point (emphasis in original):
Distinguishable entities operating identically by simple rules can form structures high in specified complexity. That is, the crabs in the video differ in size, but not in the “program” they execute. Want more specified complexity? Just add crabs.
A short computer program models the relevant behavior of an individual hermit crab. No model of intentionality is required to obtain from the program (a description of) a very long sequence of shells, sorted in order of size. In any case, the purpose of the individual crab is to obtain a shell somewhat larger than the one it presently occupies, not to form a sorted sequence of shells. The crabs are not cooperating intentionally. They sometimes fight for positions in the line. The shells are sorted for the simple reason that smaller crabs are incapable of taking the positions of larger crabs. There is no master plan that accounts for the overall structure that emerges.
But let us turn our attention from crabs to beaches, where the red herring of intentionality clearly does not wash. Many critics of ID have noted that stones are sorted by size in shingle beaches, e.g., Chesil Beach. It used to be that ID defenders would invoke Dembski’s botched explanatory filter (which Dembski later acknowledged was botched), and dismiss the ordering as regularity, not design. Today, the methodology of Ewert, Dembski, and Marks can be used to assign large quantities of “meaningful information” to regularities in nature. And thus Jonathan Bartlett’s beliefs about ID theory are in need of revision. I submit, for your general delectation, the following passage from “The Shingle Movement” (1856), which appeared in Household Words: A Weekly Journal (Charles Dickens, editor).
Another important accumulation of beach-stones is at Portland, where the shingle movement is very curious. This place is very frequently visited as a natural wonder, and, perhaps, it is the most singular collection of beach-stones on our shores. Let us suppose a mass of rounded pebbles, composed of jasper, chert, limestone, and other substances partaking of the character of the rocks and cliffs of part of Devon and Cornwall. We will not stop to inquire by what means these stones travelled scores of miles along these shores, and ultimately rolled themselves up into a thin strip about seventeen miles long, a quarter of a mile broad, and about six feet deep, and so loose that a horse’s leg sinks to the knee at every step. This arrangement is curious enough, but by some process the stones are made to diminish in dimensions from west to east, as though nature had sorted them into parcels according to their size. At Portland, for instance, they are of the size of swans’ eggs, further on they diminish to hens’ eggs; then to pigeon’s eggs, then to the size of horse-beans; then they dwindle down to peas, and, ultimately, they pass through all the gradations of small shot, and finally vanish into mere dusty specks of blown sand.
An attempt has been made to explain how this diminishing process is brought about. It seems that the largest pebbles are always found to leeward, and this is accounted for by their being more easily moved by seas than those of small dimensions, and being usually found upon the surface, they offer nearly the whole of their bulk to the action of the waves. Whereas the latter being more uniform in size, and closer packed together, expose little more than their upper surfaces, over which the waves have a tendency to travel, rather than to lift them from their bed. Thus the larger pebbles are rolled about by every wave, whilst the smaller pebbles are only moved in a mass. This seems to account for the position of the largest shingles being always to leeward, and to a certain extent explains the diminishing process observable in this bar; but we confess it does not clear up the mystery altogether: for why is not this singular arrangement found upon other beaches? For here it is so clearly marked, that a Portland fisherman is said to be able to distinguish, in the darkest night, any precise spot on the beach by the size of the pebbbles.
It has been further noticed, that the action of the north-west winds clears away the pebbles in parts of this bar, and that the south-west wind restores them again. But how is it that the same sized stones are returned to their proper places, so as not to interfere in a perceptible degree with the diminishing process the shingles here are subject to? Nature never seems to make a blunder in returning the stolen shingle. She never mixes her swans’ eggs with her pigeons’ eggs or with blown sand. And it must be borne in mind, that these incessant changes and adjusting of particles is carried on during a zig-zag movement of the whole mass, without sensibly interfering with the proportions of an immense thin strip of shingles seventeen miles long, which still retains, in defiance of these operations, a gradation in the size of its pebbles from one end to the other.