Joe Felsenstein, who posts and comments in The Skeptical Zone, presented the 37th Fisher Memorial Lecture on January 4, 2018. The video recording of his lecture is now available. I’d say that the cover frame, at the very least, was well worth the wait.
Rooting out confusion is much harder than sowing it
Excuse me for attaching to this post a brief rejoinder to a pathetic response to the lecture. Andrew Jones’s “The Law of Zero Magic” appeared in the flagship publication of the intelligent design (ID) movement, Evolution News & Science Today. The title is hugely ironic, inasmuch as the movement conceives of intelligent design as violation of a law of nature, and struggles to devise the law that is violated. The name of the violable law, whatever it might turn out to be, is the Law of Conservation of Information (LCI). That is inviolable dogma. When it comes to the meaning of information, however, ID is absurdly flexible. In 1997, William Dembski proclaimed that complex specified information (a.k.a. specified complexity) is conserved. In 2008, he and Robert Marks proclaimed that active information is conserved, and said nary a word about complex specified information. The gist is that Dembski had gotten things backwards: active information is loosely the opposite of complex specified information. No one in the ID movement has ever acknowledged his error.
Now we have Andrew Jones arguing that Dembski was right, and that Joe Felsenstein, who touched on the “Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information” in his lecture, has gotten Dembski wrong. He not only neglects to quote the full term that Joe used, but also plays mix-and-match with sources addressing the different LCIs. After opening with a link to Dembski’s “Conservation of Information Made Simple” (2012), which addresses active information instead of complex specified information, Jones proceeds to garb his ignorance in affectations of expertise:
[LCI] has been used to argue that evolution cannot create information, and I think that is true, so long as you properly understand what we are saying. But a lot of critics have not understood it yet.
It has been critiqued from a number of directions; a suspiciously large number of directions in fact: usually if an idea is wrong there is just one main thing wrong with it, so I am always suspicious when any idea is portrayed as “wrong in every way” or gets attacked in a scattergun way. You should be suspicious, too. But that is a topic for another day.
The reason that Jones attempts to dismiss, with a wave of the hand and a puffing-out of the chest, the work of conscientious scholars like Joe is that he has not studied the technical details. His article is merely the latest regurgitation of ill-digested ID rhetoric. Had he bothered to scan Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics (2017), which I have read twice, and soon will read again, then he would have known that Marks, Dembski, and Ewert have rebranded specified complexity as a measure of meaningful information, and have attached “conservation of information” to active information. The long and the short of it is that Jones is holding forth in gross ignorance of the subject matter. No one in the know takes him the least bit seriously. And neither should you. I will not return to this topic on another day. It makes my back hurt.