# 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.

It’s in eight sections, and the argument in brief goes like this:

We cannot conclude that just because a pattern is one of a vast number of possible patterns that it was Designed; to conclude Design, it has to be one of small subset of those patterns that conforms to some kind of specification. Fisher proposed that if a pattern of data was one that fell in the tail of a probability distribution (aka Probability Density Function, PDF) of patterns of data under some null hypothesis, we could reject the null, but he didn’t give a clear rational for the cut-off point. Dembski suggests that if we have sequence data which a very large number of sequences would be possible under a non-Design hypothesis, and those sequences are binned according to their “compressibility” (ease of description) then they will form a Probability Density Function in which there is a tail consisting of a small subset of easy-to-describe pattern.  Under the non-Design null hypothesis, these will happen rarely.  If, therefore, the number of opportunities for them to happen is low enough, we can reject non-Design.  And if the number of opportunities required to give them a sporting chance of happening at least once in the history of the universe is fewer than the number of events that have occurred in the universe, then we can confidently reject Design.

If any ID proponents think I have mischaracterised Dembski’s argument, I welcome your comments.  But, assuming I have this broadly right, here are the problems as I see them:

1. He does not attempt to characterise the probability distribution of his compressible sequences under his “non-Design” null, and simply assumes that only Design processes could reliably result in highly compressible patterns that would be improbable under a process that assigned each element in the sequence independently from any other – he does not attempt to argue why this should be the case, and it demonstrably is not.
2. He does not show how compressibility should be measured (in fact Hazen et al, as discussed here IMO do a much better job, by substituting functional efficiency for compressibility, but their paper does not help Dembski’s case)
3. He ignores the fact that the very easiest-to-describe sequences (e.g. ranked order sequences) are readily produced by non-Design sorting processes, yet can be highly “complex” i.e. one of a vast number of sorted and unsorted sequences), e.g. Chesil Beach.

Now, there may be various other ID papers proposing some kind of alternative to CSI that tackle some of these problems, but my point is that these three objections are fatal flaws in Dembski’s concept, and that therefore any improvement has to tackle all three.  But it would be interesting to see if there is any disagreement about whether I have his argument right, and what the flaws are.

## 198 thoughts on “Dembski’s CSI”

1. William J. Murray: Natural selection doesn’t add anything; it only redistributes and fixes what is already there. However, even if we go by Joe F’s redistribution and fixation method of “acquiring” CSI, I didn’t say that NS couldn’t “add” CSI, only that it hasn’t been demostrated that it, in principle, adds more than it subtracts.

No, but it doesn’t have to to refute the claim that it can’t add. But William, by repeatedly divorcing the concept of “NS” from the concept of “variance” you are missing a really important point. The trouble is, whenever I make that point, you say I am “obfuscating”! As Joe G repeatedly, and correctly, points out, “NS” doesn’t “do” anything. It isn’t a causal agent. It’s a metaphor for part of a process that does do something. That process is sometimes described as “RM+NS” but is better simply described, IMO, as heritable variation in reproductive success. There can be no “NS” without heritable variation, and the “NS” part is simply what happens when that heritable variation results in phenotypic effects that impact on reproductive success. Without heritable variation in reproductive success, increased CSI is very unlikely. With heritable variation in reproductive success, increased CSI becomes quite probable. I am happy to demonstrate this, and hope to do so, live, in a future thread.

No, you’re just doing the usual semantic obfuscation, red herring, straw man and obfuscation routine.

I understand that you see it that way, but I think you are wrong. I am not. But I apologise for using an expression that implied that you were doing it deliberately. I’m sure you are not.
I fully contextualized in this thread that I mean “search” in the descriptive and not prescriptive sense.Perhaps this is once again a case of you responding to posts I’ve made out of context with previous posts, but seeing as I’ve already pointed out that problem to you, it seems to me to be more of a willful attempt at derailing the debate down out-of-context rabbit-holes.

And I took it as being in the “descriptive” sense. Let’s recap:

You said:

you have no basis for the claim that NS adds anything to the search for increased CSI

to which I replied:

Elizabeth: You’ve done a bit of a bait and switch there, by slipping in the word “search”. Nobody is claiming that evolution is a process of “searching” for CSI. What evolution “searches” for (if we must use that potentially misleading and baggage-laden term) are phenotypes that thrive in the current environment; possibly even populations that adapt to changing environments. This will often entail an increase in CSI. It may not.

Note that I actually made mention of the fact that “search” is a “baggage-laden term” and interpreted it sans baggage. My objection was not to your use of the word “search” but its object: “CSI”. My point was that nobody claims that evolution is a “search” for CSI. Evolution, if conceived of as a search, is a search for a solution to the problem of successfully reproducing in the current environment. If that solution means more CSI, evolutionary processes are capable of producing it. If it means less (as sometimes it may), then evolutionary processes are capable of that too.

One would think that the simple principle of charity would dictate that when I use the term “search” in an evolutionary sense, you assume I don’t mean that evolution is actively searching for a specific target, and that when I use the term “target”, I mean that in the general descriptive sense and not in the prescriptive sense.

Sure, but it isn’t what I assumed.

Nobody is claiming that evolution is a process of “searching” for CSI.

Nor have I said they were; what is at issue is is whether or not NS adds anything significant to the equation of how CSI comes into existence (search in the post hoc, descriptive sense, not in the prescriptive sense).

Well you strongly implied it when you said: “you have no basis for the claim that NS adds anything to the search for increased CSI”. If I misunderstood, I apologise, but those words strongly suggest to me that you assumed that I (or generic “you”) have claimed that NS adds something to the search for increased CSI. But yes, the issue is whether NS can result in increased CSI. I’m saying it can. It can also, in principle, result in a decrease.

Unless you can show that what NS produces as it differentiates between success and failure in practice is in principle a deviation from the mean in favor of increased CSI, then NS is useless as a mechanism for explaining increased CSI.

I’m not sure what this means. Dembski’s claim is that anything that shows CSI must have been designed. I’m saying that this is refuted by the demonstration that evolutionary processes (self-replication with heritable variance in reproductive success) can result CSI – in fact I’d say that CSI is a potentially useful marker for a process that has involved self-replication with heritable variance in reproductive success. And that includes,but is not restricted to the output of intelligent intentional agents.

It might increase it (according to Joe F’s method), but it doesn’t necessarily game evolution in favor of it, because, theoretically, it could just as easily reduce CSI.

Well, probably less easily, because of floor effects, and because many beneficial variants form the basis of even more beneficial variants. But again, nobody that I know is claiming that evolution is “game[d] in favor of” CSI, merely that the idea that evolution, in company with intelligent agents, are capable of generating it.

In order to explain increase in CSI above the mean provided by chance mutation, NS must game the system in favor of increased CSI.

There are two errors here, William.

The first error is the idea that to demonstrate that NS can create CSI, we must show that it is more likely to result in an increase above the mean than an increase below it. This is not Dembski’s concept of CSI. For Dembski, “chance” processes will produce a distribution of degrees of CSI, the high tail of which is so improbable that it exhausts the “probabilistic resources” of the universe. In other words, to refute Dembski we do not have to demonstrate that evolution must produce an increase more often than a decrease, but that it must be able to produce a degree of CSI that is beyond the capacity of chance.

The second error is related, and concerns the phrase “chance mutation”. Using your definition of “chance”, all mutations are “chance mutations”, or at least that is what evolutionary theory posits (it does not posit that they are equiprobable, nor that their effects will have a flat fitness distribution). What you are suggesting, then, is that to demonstrate that it is NS specifically that it produces more CSI than “chance mutation”. But CSI is defined as the tail of the distribution of CSI that is beyond the reach of “chance”. So any CSI that is produced by non-intentional means must refute Dembski’s claim. But then we are back in a circle, because for you, “non-intentional” and “chance” are synonymous!

I suggest that what you should be asking us to demonstrate is simply whether, starting from something with no CSI (for instance, pattern that is a sequence of coin-tosses), by using self-replication with heritable variation in reproductive success, we can generate a pattern that has CSI. If we can, Dembski is refuted.

Unless NS actively skews progress towards increased CSI (by inserting pro-CSI-relevant active or oracle information), we can only expect those roads to be explored as far as chance can provide.

Well, it depends what you mean by “oracle information”. If you mean feedback from the environment, sure, but that is what Natural selection is. If not, what do you mean?

And, to avoid your usual obfuscation, I mean “chance” in the euphemistic sense, not as a literal entity named “chance”.

William, I am truly not “obfuscating”. On the contrary, I am trying to clarify, by making sure that any potentially ambiguous words are explicitly defined. And I don’t find that “in the euphemistic sense” a explicity definition. If you are using “chance” as a euphemism, what is it euphemism for?

2. “So now you want me to calculate the value of a commodity about which you have argued unrelentingly for years that NS was sufficient to explain the existence of, only that I was too ignorant of biology to understand why it was sufficient?”

I don’t agree that “you” (whoever that is) has argued unrelentingly for years that NS was sufficient to explain the existence of CSI. I doubt that any reputable evolutionary biologist has argued that NS is “sufficient to explain the existence of” CSI.

You IDists can’t make up your minds about what CSI is or how it’s measured and some people who debate you have sometimes used the term CSI, and one or another of the ways you guys define it, to try to explain that one or more aspects of evolution can account for whatever it is that you guys are asserting under the label of CSI at the time. In other words, some people are just using the term CSI or “specified complexity” to try to help you understand the way evolution works, and are not necessarily saying that CSI is a legitimate term.

The mistake is to get into debates where bogus terms like CSI are used and let IDists determine what’s legitimate and what’s not. The bottom line is that you guys can’t even coherently define CSI, or measure it, or show that it’s useful, or that it’s anything more than a figment of your imagination.

In Joe Felsenstein’s article (Natural selection can put Functional Information into the genome) it looks to me that he is basing his points on Dembski’s definitions and claims (see below) and isn’t necessarily supporting the validity of the terms CSI or specified information. He can correct me if I’m mistaken.

“The essence of the notion of Functional Information, or Specified Information, is that it measures how far out on some scale the genotypes have gone. The relevant measure is fitness. Whether or not my discussion (or Dembski’s) is sound information theory, the key question is whether there is some conservation law which shows that natural selection cannot significantly improve fitness by improving adaptation. My paper argued that there is no such law. This numerical example shows a simple model of natural selection doing exactly what Dembski’s LCCSI law said it cannot do.”

3. olegt:
WJM: “See, there really isn’t any deep math or biological education and experience necessary to get to the heart of most of these debates.”

olegt: “LOL.”

LOLs seconded. There really isn’t for someone who keeps missing the heart so thoroughly.

4. So, here’s the point: unless you can show NS to select more for increased CSI than against increased CSI, you have no basis for the claim that NS adds anything to the search for increased CSI.

OMG, that is such a sweet argument. Short, concise, and perfect. This is why I take the time and effort in forums like this.

LOL. Short, sweet, and completely besides the point. In Joe F’s exercise, CSI was SPECIFICALLY defined in terms of FITNESS, where a genome that confers higher fitness has higher CSI:

quoting Joe’s OP:

The essence of the notion of Functional Information, or Specified Information, is that it measures how far out on some scale the genotypes have gone. The relevant measure is fitness. Whether or not my discussion (or Dembski’s) is sound information theory, the key question is whether there is some conservation law which shows that natural selection cannot significantly improve fitness by improving adaptation.

So when you pointed out Joe F’s calculations for CSI in response to this statement by someone else:

“I don’t think anyone, including Dembski, knows how to measure or compute the CSI of a biological system. So the task you are saddling us with is not feasible at the moment.”

… you picked a case that already demonstrated the point you are questioning.

But you may not like the way Joe F defined and used the term CSI. If you don’t, you must show us how you want to calculate CSI (presumably in some way that is not connected to fitness – and it would be really interesting to see how you achieve this, since the “specification” part of CSI is meaningless for biology if it’s not about fitness) to lend any significance to your argument.

5. There is so much annoying bullshit being thrown about.

The question is not about information and searches. It is about whether the changes in genetic sequences observed between related species can be accounted for by known kinds of variation, and whether the differences can be bridged by changes of the size and type known to occur.

A person versed in philosophy and logic should be aware of the hazards of reifying metaphors and then arguing about the properties of the original systems based on the metaphors.

6. madbat089: So when you pointed out Joe F’s calculations for CSI in response to this statement by someone else:
“I don’t think anyone, including Dembski, knows how to measure or compute the CSI of a biological system. So the task you are saddling us with is not feasible at the moment.”
… you picked a case that already demonstrated the point you are questioning.

It reminds me of all the problems ID/creationists have with entropy. They think “more advanced” organisms have lower entropy; and they think “information” is some kind of “inverse” or “negative” of entropy.

So, according to ID/creationist misrepresentations, anything with lower entropy is “more organized and advanced.”

Amoebas have considerably lower entropy than humans; therefore amoebas are far more organized and advanced (according to ID/creationist reasoning).

7. William J. Murray: One would think that the simple principle of charity would dictate that when I use the term “search” in an evolutionary sense, you assume I don’t mean that evolution is actively searching for a specific target, and that when I use the term “target”, I mean that in the general descriptive sense and not in the prescriptive sense.

And one would think when we are trying to make some use of the notion of CSI, a vague, woolly metric that biologists have no use for, then the principle of charity would dictate that we are not berated when trying to couch the concept of natural selection in terms that you, or anyone else labouring under the notion that Dembski’s CSI is relevant in biology, might understand.

Agree?

8. Amoebas have considerably lower entropy than humans; therefore amoebas are far more organized and advanced (according to ID/creationist reasoning).

Heh. I have a fondness for amoebae due to many happy childhood hours collecting pond and puddle water, and watching those little dudes go zooming and wobbling around under the microscope…
Go amoebae!
🙂

9. Elizabeth,

Just to point out one of your more blatant misrepresentations,

The first error is the idea that to demonstrate that NS can create CSI, we must show that it is more likely to result in an increase above the mean than an increase below it.

That may be “an” idea, but it isn’t mine. Another red-straw-rabbitism in a post full of them, which I’m no longer going to bother deconstructing and correcting.

10. William J. Murray:
Look guys, this is the most simple and basic logic……

Unless you can show NS to select more for increased CSI than for decreased CSI,you have no logical basis for the claim that NS adds anything significant to chance* as an explanation for increased CSI in the genome.

Let’s recast that question to see what’s wrong with it….

Unless you can show NS to select more for larger wings than for smaller wings, you have no logical basis for the claim that NS adds anything significant to chance as an explanation for larger wings.

Can you see the flaw?

The essence of the notion of Functional Information, or Specified Information, is that it measures how far out on some scale the genotypes have gone. The relevant measure is fitness.

You cannot have “how far out on some scale” and “fitness” be the same commodity, or it would be a meaningless tautology; i.e., the fitness of something measuring how fit it is.

12. William J. Murray: You cannot have “how far out on some scale” and “fitness” be the same commodity, or it would be a meaningless tautology; i.e., the fitness of something measuring how fit it is.

You don’t like the concept of fitness. Fine. Tell us how we should measure (or calculate) CSI in an organism or species.

13. Can you see the flaw?

Yes, the flaw lies in equivocating the challenge of varying the size of already existing wings and building a novel, functioning set of wings and all necessary flight infrastructure from scratch.

14. William J. Murray: Yes, the flaw lies in equivocating the challenge of varying the size of already existing wings and building a novel, functioning set of wings and all necessary flight infrastructure from scratch.

Most of us are familiar with the “What good is a half of a wing?” retort.

Are you now resurrecting this?

15. You cannot have “how far out on some scale” and “fitness” be the same commodity, or it would be a meaningless tautology; i.e., the fitness of something measuring how fit it is.

Ok. Two points:

1) “How far out on some scale” and “fitness” are not the same commodity under Joe’s definition (Joe, please correct me if I am wrong). What Joe simply says is this: The essence of the notion of CSI, is that it measures how far out on the scale of fitness the genotypes have gone.

2) Since you seem to suggest that you indeed disagree with Joe’s definition and use of CSI, you will need to show how you want to calculate CSI in order to give any meaning to this argument of yours:

unless you can show NS to select more for increased CSI than against increased CSI, you have no basis for the claim that NS adds anything to the search for increased CSI.

16. William J. Murray: Yes, the flaw lies in equivocating the challenge of varying the size of already existing wings and building a novel, functioning set of wings and all necessary flight infrastructure from scratch.

I see, so increased wing-size does not constitute an increase in CSI, and is therefore within the power of natural selection to engineer?

Does an albatross wing contain more or less CSI than a kiwi’s?

Does a horse contain more or less CSI than a donkey?

17. William J. Murray: Yes, the flaw lies in equivocating the challenge of varying the size of already existing wings and building a novel, functioning set of wings and all necessary flight infrastructure from scratch.

William-
So the first organism that had a wing either (1) had more CSI than its parents did or (2) was designed and manufactured without a parent?

18. William J. Murray: Yes, the flaw lies in equivocating the challenge of varying the size of already existing wings and building a novel, functioning set of wings and all necessary flight infrastructure from scratch.

But of course, it’s never from “scratch”, that’s the whole point, it’s a series of gradual steps. Nothing in evolution is ever done from scratch. Watch a video of a flying squirrel. Is it so difficult to imagine that this ability to glide developed incrementally? And if you can accept that, why can’t flight, of a bat for example, simply be a continuum on that scale. Do you really need to have every point mutation spelled out before you can grasp the obvious?

And if that’s not enough evidence, throw in the fossil record that demonstrates the intermediates, the genetic similarities between extant species, the biogeographical patterns of speciation.

On the other hand, if the CSI, something nobody can define or measure, indicates that you can’t get here from there, well I guess there really must be someone behind the curtain twiddling some nobs.

19. Sometimes I wish I could take a trip to, oh, 100 million years into the future. I expect I’d discover all kinds of novel biological structures had evolved “from scratch”, except that if I squinted real hard and revved up my imagination, I might dimly notice that many if not most of the primitive “protostructures” that looked so complete and fully formed when I left, were only debatable precursors of what they’d become 100 million years from now.

Hopefully, I wouldn’t find any life forms as primitive as humans sitting about disputing whether “random chance” could have been responsible for all that change. Clearly, the Designer had been busy in His inscrutable way, poofing in slow motion across a slowly changing adaptive landscape.

20. William J. Murray:
Elizabeth,

Just to point out one of your more blatant misrepresentations,

That may be “an” idea, but it isn’t mine. Another red-straw-rabbitism in a post full of them, which I’m no longer going to bother deconstructing and correcting.

William, you suggested I invoke the principle of charity in interpreting Joe G’s post, earlier. I must suggest that you do the same with mine.

I am trying to understand your arguments to the best of my ability. If I am misrepresenting them, I apologise. I will not accept full responsibility for the miscommunication, because I don’t think it it is entirely my fault – I think that we both need to try harder to convey our meanings to the other, and I think that there are real issues over language that we need to identify and resolve. If you didn’t mean what I interpreted you to mean in your posts, then your meaning was simply unclear to me. You are, by your candid and admirable admission, neither mathematician nor scientist, yet you are attempting to make a mathematical and scientific point. You do not use, understandably, mathematical language in a way that makes your meaning very clear. If you what you wrote were written in a paper I had to review, I would request clarification.

Because I say in all sincerity that my intention is to understand you. My view is that you are making errors – several – and I’m trying to identify those errors. However, it is possible that you are making no errors and the fault is in my understanding of your case.

But we won’t get any further unless we are both willing to grant that the other is posting in good faith. It is a courtesy I extend to you, with sincerity. I would appreciate it if you would do the same in return.

I would be grateful if you would rephrase the point you were attempting to make in the post I responded to in as unambiguous a manner as you can.

Peace

Lizzie

21. OK, let me try again, being very careful to use only your own exact words:

William J. Murray: Natural selection doesn’t add anything; it only redistributes and fixes what is already there. However, even if we go by Joe F’s redistribution and fixation method of “acquiring” CSI, I didn’t say that NS couldn’t “add” CSI, only that it hasn’t been demostrated that it, in principle, adds more than it subtracts.

Two points:
1. “Natural selection doesn’t add anything; it only redistributes and fixes what is already there.” “Natural selection” is just a metaphor, and only refers to half of what is an indivisible process: heritable variance in reproductive success in the current environment. We can also have heritable variance that has no effect on reproductive success in the current environment, and in that case we would say that those variants were “neutral”. So let’s regard Natural Selection as heritable variance that has an effect on reproductive success. So does “having an effect on reproductive success” add anything? Yes, it does. What it “adds” is a bias to the sampling of variation in each generation towards sequences that promote reproductive success. That bias means that over time, the population systematically acquires information about what variations thrive best in that environment. That means that the genomes of the individuals in that population will bear sequences that are specified: they are members of a small subset (of the vast set of theoretically possible sequences) of sequences that promote successful reproduction in that environment. They are also complex, and so they have CSI. So I’d say that your statement that “”Natural selection doesn’t add anything” is simply wrong. NS adds specified information to the genomes of the evolving population – information that specifies traits that promote successful reproduction.

2. “However, even if we go by Joe F’s redistribution and fixation method of “acquiring” CSI, I didn’t say that NS couldn’t “add” CSI, only that it hasn’t been demostrated that it, in principle, adds more than it subtracts”. Fine. We don’t have to demonstrate that it adds more than it subtracts to refute the claim that it can’t generate CSI. If you are not making the claim that NS cannot generate CSI, that’s fine, but Dembsi’s contention is that the S part of CSI is “the pattern that signifies intelligence”. I am saying, and perhaps you are not disagreeing, that it doesn’t, because it can also be generated by NS. Both NS and intelligent agents can generate CSI; they can also, both, destroy it.

No, you’re just doing the usual semantic obfuscation, red herring, straw man and obfuscation routine.

I fully contextualized in this thread that I mean “search” in the descriptive and not prescriptive sense.Perhaps this is once again a case of you responding to posts I’ve made out of context with previous posts, but seeing as I’ve already pointed out that problem to you, it seems to me to be more of a willful attempt at derailing the debate down out-of-context rabbit-holes.

One would think that the simple principle of charity would dictate that when I use the term “search” in an evolutionary sense, you assume I don’t mean that evolution is actively searching for a specific target, and that when I use the term “target”, I mean that in the general descriptive sense and not in the prescriptive sense.

I’ve already made the point above that I was not objecting to your use of the word search, but your apparent claim that evolutionists claim that what is being searched for by evolutionary processes is CSI. We don’t claim that. We claim that what is being searched for are variants that are reproductively successful in the current environment. I hope that is now clear..

Nor have I said they were; what is at issue is is whether or not NS adds anything significant to the equation of how CSI comes into existence (search in the post hoc, descriptive sense, not in the prescriptive sense).

OK. I agree that that is at issue. I have, above, attempted to explain the manner in which it can.

Unless you can show that what NS produces as it differentiates between success and failure in practice is in principle a deviation from the mean [mean CSI, averaged over what population of values?] in favor of increased CSI, then NS is useless as a mechanism for explaining increased CSI. It might increase it (according to Joe F’s method), but it doesn’t necessarily game [what does “game” mean, here?] evolution in favor of it, because, theoretically, it could just as easily reduce CSI.

And clearly I misunderstood your intended meaning here. This is the paragraph that I would like you to clarify. I have inserted above, in square brackets, what I would like to have clarified. I had interpreted you to mean that we must show that NS systematically, on average, increases CSI rather than reduces it (plotted against time, would show a net upward trajectory), i.e. that NS biases sequences in favour of increased CSI. My answer was we do not have to do this to refute the claim that NS cannot increase CSI. If it sometimes does so, then, clearly, it can. If I am addressing a red straw rabbit here, please provide me with a satisfactory substitute!

Unless NS actively skews progress towards increased CSI (by inserting pro-CSI-relevant active or oracle information), we can only expect those roads to be explored as far as chance can provide.

And I repeat my request for clarification as to what you mean by “oracle information”.

And, to avoid your usual obfuscation, I mean “chance” in the euphemistic sense, not as a literal entity named “chance”.

And I repeat my request for clarification as to what you are using “chance” as a euphemism for.

Thanks.

22. William J. Murray: Can you see the flaw?

This is Behe’s “Irreducible Complexity” argument, which Dembski relates to his CSI argument, but not very convincingly, IMO.

I think it would be worth focussing this thread on the paper in the OP, which makes a pretty extraordinary claim: that the S part of CSI is “the pattern that signifies intelligence”. It seems to me very clear that it does not – it may also signify evolutionary processes.

Unless your point is that only new structures have CSI, or that evolutionary process can only add CSI if there is already CSI to begin with?

23. This is Behe’s “Irreducible Complexity” argument, which Dembski relates to his CSI argument, but not very convincingly, IMO

Whatever- your positin doesn’t have any EVIDENCE to refute IC.

And you continue to equivocate – “evolutionary processes” could very well be design processes.

24. BTW Liz- natural selection would reduce the variation within a population and therefor, by your logic, also reduce the information.

However CSI only pertains to individuals- natural selection pertains to individuals. Mutations occur in individuals.

25. Joe G:
BTW Liz- natural selection would reduce the variation within a population and therefor, by your logic, also reduce the information.

By what reasoning do you conclude that reducing variation within a population reduces information?

However CSI only pertains to individuals- natural selection pertains to individuals. Mutations occur in individuals.

Nothing in Dembski’s paper indicates that “CSI only pertains to individuals”, although obviously it could. Natural selection pertains to populations – it’s a biasing of the sampling of a population in successive generations. Mutations do indeed occur in individuals.

26. CSI is a shibboleth.

The real questions are:

Could replicating molecules have arisen by chance?

Could these replicating molecules have gained the ability to produce polymers of other molecules?

Could these polymers have functions?

Could lipid sacs have formed spontaneously?

Could there be interchange of small molecules through the lipid membranes, with interaction with the larger molecules within?

Is it possible that such complex objects as modern ribosomes could have developed from simpler precursors?

And, of course, many another!

I think that there is sufficient experimental and theoretical evidence to indicate that there are at least feasible pathways for all of the above.

So there!

But I will add that I have a genuinely open mind on all the above. If a preponderance of real scientists, having the requisite knowledge and experience in relevant fields, eventually produce evidence that there could have been no feasible way in which the above could have happened, I’ll have to accept it.
Similarly, if a preponderance of those people start saying “No, it’s all too complex, there must have been a Designer”, I’ll have to think again.

What is never going to be convincing to the scientifically literate is being showered with slogans and catchphrases by those who lack even such basic knowledge as what constitutes a mole of a substance; or who (and it is utterly incredible to me that such people exist) really think that evolutionary processes violate 2LoT; or who refuse to answer the simplest questions about their own standpoints.

Nor am I likely to be convinced by those with an obvious religious agenda driving the (pseudo)scientific arguments: nor yet by those who arbitrarily and as a matter of course censor dissenting opinions

Nor yet, for the record, by those who routinely and as a matter of course, denigrate my intellectual capacity simply because I disagree with them. Intellectual giant, I am not; sufficiently well-read, well-educated, scientifically experienced and qualified to argue those points I choose to argue, I am.

27. By what reasoning do you conclude that reducing variation within a population reduces information?

Less variation = less information

Nothing in Dembski’s paper indicates that “CSI only pertains to individuals”, although obviously it could.

The paper does not exist in isolation, Liz. CSI has always pertained to individuals.

Natural selection pertains to populations

No, NS involves the individual- it is the individuals that are what fitness is all about- the most fit individuals wiithin a population will out-reproduce the less fit individuals.

28. Natural selection, from Darwin’s definition, consists of the “preservation of of favorable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious”.

29. WJM

So, here’s the point: unless you can show NS to select more for increased CSI than against increased CSI, you have no basis for the claim that NS adds anything to the search for increased CSI.

OMG, that is such a sweet argument. Short, concise, and perfect. This is why I take the time and effort in forums like this.

Ummm … no, it stinks! :0) NS does not promote more or less of any quality other than having offspring. CSI (whatever it really is) is no more the ‘goal’ of NS than being large or small, bald or hairy, parasitic or carnivorous. The operative word is can increase X, not must. Of course, NS never really gets anywhere overall, because however elaborate and/or adapted organisms get, however fecund one variant is wrt another, once it has won the race, everyone is back to square one. But with a little more ‘information’ overall – how better to deal with the current environment, thanks to those mutants that did deal better. It’s not over – any new mutant can try its hand, and up we go again to find that, like Sisyphus, we remain at the foot.

NS does not necessarily put in the Complexity, but it does increase the ‘Specified Information‘ – the quality that in a designed solution would be some kind of ‘fitness for purpose’ (not to be confused with biological fitness). It is not (necessarily) there on day 1 – a cold-tolerant mutant is not ‘specified info’ unless the climate turns colder.

Complexity is a separate issue, highly important to us who see ourselves as the pinnacle (so much so that Gods must be much like us, only better). But numerically, animals are a tiny aberration on the Tree/Thicket of Life. Plants and fungi likewise, and the rest of the 16 or so groups that have evolved multicellularity.

Now, there IS a payoff for greater complexity. But it must also be accessible, and it is not a universal. Parasites are not selected to be complex. Prokaryotes changed but little in 2 billion years of evolution – NS keeps them simple and quick for structural, mechanistic reasons. Something changed – first endosymbiosis, then sex. These have impacts far and wide that would take half a semester to discuss. But it should be apparent that an organism that can wrap its genes in a diploid soma, and not be bound by diffusion of nutrients but instead can actively seek them, ingest them, differentiate cell types to a nervous system, immune system, motor system and so on, is likely to gain a niche and be capable of further adaptation to that way of life. Your idea that increasing CSI must be detrimental (by Design analogy again) is just an assertion (and inconsistent – are we fit for purpose or not?). Some complexity simply arises due to a kind of Rube Goldberg elaborateness – it just happened to have worked out that way. Some is likely to be genuinely adaptive – you can’t differentiate cell types without some increase in complexity of the underlying genome, and that differentiation is likely to provide an adaptive advantage in the population in which it arises. Primitive nervous systems did not need to compete with modern ones, but with other primitive ones.

But these complexities are complexities of shells. That is all our visible complex phenotypes are – patterned shells that protect and nurture our germ line genes. This is where biology comes in. You can’t just intuit these principles; you have to investigate them. And unfortunately, in my experience, far too many on the ID/Creationist side are not so much lacking the information, but completely unaware that there is anything in that information that could possibly inform their viewpoint. It’s the Duane Gish “Shucks, if a simple guy like me can see what a PoS it all is”, dressed up in bigger words.

30. However CSI only pertains to individuals- natural selection pertains to individuals. Mutations occur in individuals.

Joe, in a population of animals all of the same species, does each individual have the identical amount of CSI? Or are they all slightly different CSI values? How do you tell?

Do identical twins have the same CSI? How about fraternal twins? Normal non-twin siblings?

Please explain this in more detail, thanks.

31. Elizabeth said:

..yet you are attempting to make a mathematical and scientific point.

No, I’m not. Try again?

32. I’ve already made the point above that I was not objecting to your use of the word search, but your apparent claim that evolutionists claim that what is being searched for by evolutionary processes is CSI. We don’t claim that.

I didn’t say you claimed that.Try again?

33. William J. Murray: Elizabeth said:No, I’m not. Try again?

Why do you tell us what you’re trying to do, rather than have us fish. It’s probably faster (as we don’t have to use step wise accumulated facts).

In other news – have you calculated the CSI of anything yet / ever. If not, how do you feel about it as a metric?

34. William J. Murray: I didn’t say you claimed that.Try again?

Maybe you should pause and ask yourself why so many people, after so many weeks, fail to understand what your are saying.

I personally have difficult reading your posts, not because i disagree with them, but because your points are so abstract that I can’t connect anything real and concrete to them.

Most successful published writers combine abstract points with specific examples. The combination is both clearer and more interesting.

35. William J Murray – Your emperor has no clothes (CSI). If he does, please produce the calcs. If not, be good enough to admit it and we can all move on.

36. William J. Murray:
Elizabeth said:

No, I’m not.Try again?

I’m referring to your point here:

Unless you can show that what NS produces as it differentiates between success and failure in practice is in principle a deviation from the mean in favor of increased CSI, then NS is useless as a mechanism for explaining increased CSI. It might increase it (according to Joe F’s method), but it doesn’t necessarily game evolution in favor of it, because, theoretically, it could just as easily reduce CSI.

It’s a mathematical point, because you are referring to “a deviation from the mean” and to “increased CSI” (a mathematically defined concept) and “NS” which is a scientific concept.

I am trying to parse your meaning here. What “mean” are you referring to, and what is doing the deviating? And for what pattern are you proposing we compute the CSI? The genome?

37. Personally, I’m happy in principle with CSI as a metric.

And my claim is that “NS” can generate it.

I’m happy to try to demonstrate this. William, if I can show that NS can generate CSI, would you accept that Dembski has made an error?

38. I will- I will bow down before you and write to Dembski- I will blog about your greatness

OTOH if you mess it up by starting with CSI…

39. But of course, it’s never from “scratch”, that’s the whole point, it’s a series of gradual steps.

What do the gradual steps lead back to, if not “scratch”? Or, perhaps by “scratch” you think I mean “nothing”? When you make a cake from scratch, you’re starting with basic ingredients – flour, sugar, oil, eggs, etc. At some point, all evolution begins with “basic ingredients”, from which wings and immune systems are – over time, even in step by step increments – built from.

The fact that it is a gradual or incremental process that spans billions of years does nothing to change the fact that functioning wings and flight infrastructure must be built from scratch by non-intelligent processes.

40. William J Murray – Your emperor has no clothes (CSI). If he does, please produce the calcs. If not, be good enough to admit it and we can all move on.

You’re free to move on whether I take an interest in correcting your straw man challenge or not.

41. Maybe you should pause and ask yourself why so many people, after so many weeks, fail to understand what your are saying.

The only people that fail to understand what I am saying, in my experience, are those dedicated to a different conclusion.

42. Why do you tell us what you’re trying to do, rather than have us fish.

You don’t have to fish. There’s a whole thread that explicitly states what kind of argumens I am presenting here.

43. Aha, William is starting to understand that your alleged “good faith” discussions is just as illusory as the positive evidence for materialism…

44. William J. Murray: What do the gradual steps lead back to, if not “scratch”? Or, perhaps by “scratch” you think I mean “nothing”? When you make a cake from scratch, you’re starting with basic ingredients – flour, sugar, oil, eggs, etc. At some point, all evolution begins with “basic ingredients”, from which wings and immune systems are – over time, even in step by step increments – built from.
The fact that it is a gradual or incremental process that spans billions of years does nothing to change the fact that functioning wings and flight infrastructure must be built from scratch by non-intelligent processes.

You do know, don’t you, that wings of various types were only a few of the thousand of structures that fell out of the evolutionary process?

Wings are modifications of structures that were used for other things; and those other structures evolved into something different in other species. Yet most of them retain the “memories” of earlier structures.

You ID/creationists should really take the time to learn some real science instead of that catechism of mish-mashed misrepresentations you get from your leaders.

Where do you get the idea that it all had to be put in place all at once; from Behe’s “irreducible complexity?” That is also bunk.

Besides the attention it gets you, what do you hope to gain from misrepresenting science and then demanding that others “prove” your ill-conceived patches to your own misunderstandings and misrepresentations are wrong? You are the one that made them up; not us.

45. William J. Murray: You’re free to move on whether I take an interest in correcting your straw man challenge or not.

Actually, I’m looking for a worked example of CSi, which you are unwilling or unable to provide – and you’ve asked by a few people now. So I’ll keep pressing I think.

46. WJM and others seem hung up on metaphors. I think each merits its own thread.

1. The combination lock metaphor. I understand this to be in the form that there are 10^500 or more possible combinations, a very small number of which will open a lock. Let’s be generous and say 10^100 lock openers. That means the chances of stumbiling across a correct combination are insurmountably small.

2. The isolated island metaphor. An extension of the combination lock. The correct combinations are distributed randomly and cannot be “hopped.”

3. The entropy metaphor. “Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.” The natural order of things is toward decay.

4. The information metaphor. The most persuasive version of this that I’ve heard compares genomes to human language. Interestingly, this metaphor fits nicely with the claim that :Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.” and “”the Word was with God and the Word was God.” What makes this difficult to counter is that human language remains something that we have not really been able to mimic in silicon. I refer to Feynman’s dictum that what we cannot make we do not understand. As someone who witnessed the Skinner/Chomsky fracas in real time, I find this interesting.

5. The mousetrap metaphor. I call this the invention metaphor, because the concept of irreducible complexity tracks the language of patentable inventions. Behe’s argument has evolved over the years, but it boils down to the claim that some inventions require an unreasonably unlikely combination of things coming together. It is an extension of the combination lock metaphor. Behe is saying that some inventions require cracking several combinations at the same time in the correct order.

I take all these critiques seriously, and I think they need to be addressed. I think they have been addressed many times, but I have tried to place them in the best possible light, because I share with Darwin the belief that one cannot refute a criticism unless you refute it in its best form.

Maybe this post belongs in the sandbox.

47. Mike Elzinga: You do know, don’t you, that wings of various types were only a few of the thousand of structures that fell out of the evolutionary process?

Wings are modifications of structures that were used for other things; and those other structures evolved into something different in other species.Yet most of them retain the “memories” of earlier structures.

You ID/creationists should really take the time to learn some real science instead of that catechism of mish-mashed misrepresentations you get from your leaders.

Where do you get the idea that it all had to be put in place all at once; from Behe’s “irreducible complexity?”That is also bunk.

Besides the attention it gets you, what do you hope to gain from misrepresenting science and then demanding that others “prove” your ill-conceived patches to your own misunderstandings and misrepresentations are wrong?You are the one that made them up; not us.

What’s to learn, Mikey? You don’t know how many mutations nor to what genes produced any wing, nor any other biological structure.

If you had some positive evidence you would have presented it. Yet here you are with nothing but rhetoric….

48. William J Murray: “What do the gradual steps lead back to, if not “scratch”? Or, perhaps by “scratch” you think I mean “nothing”?”

For every poster here, which one has had to re-learn English from scratch, once for History, once for Math, once for Geography, etc. ?

Like most people, I have only learned it once and re-used that “information” for each subject I studied.

ID needs this “start with randomness” argument, as bad as it is, because if they’re wrong about the re-use of “information”, CSI, IC and the UPB are meaningless.

49. Elizabeth: By what reasoning do you conclude that reducing variation within a population reduces information?

Nothing in Dembski’s paper indicates that “CSI only pertains to individuals”, although obviously it could.Natural selection pertains to populations – it’s a biasing of the sampling of a population in successive generations.Mutations do indeed occur in individuals.

I love this part of my job- correcting evos on what their own position claims:
Natural Selection, Genetic Drift, and Gene Flow Do Not Act in Isolation in Natural Populations

Natural selection occurs when individuals with certain genotypes are more likely than individuals with other genotypes to survive and reproduce, and thus to pass on their alleles to the next generation. As Charles Darwin (1859) argued in On the Origin of Species, if the following conditions are met, natural selection must occur:

1.There is variation among individuals within a population in some trait.
2.This variation is heritable (i.e., there is a genetic basis to the variation, such that offspring tend to resemble their parents in this trait).
3.Variation in this trait is associated with variation in fitness (the average net reproduction of individuals with a given genotype relative to that of individuals with other genotypes).

I guess my posts will pop-up sometime…

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