Jonathan McLatchie fails to define Specified Complexity

At Uncommon Descent, a News posting by Denyse O’Leary shows us a video by Jonathan McLatchie. News then expects “Darwin faithful” to “create a distraction below”.

McLatchie defines Specified Complexity as information that matches a predefined pattern, such as specific protein folds needed to have a particular function. His video is in a series entitled “One Minute Apologist” (he takes 2 minutes).

He never says anything to clarify whether natural selection can put this information into the genome. We’ve discussed these points many times before, but let me briefly mention the dilemma that he doesn’t resolve for us:

1, Complex Specified Information was defined by William Dembski in No Free Lunch in this way. The high level of improbability that he required was supposed to show that random mutation could not produce CSI. And a Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information was supposed to show that natural selection could not achieve CSI. Unfortunately the LCCSI is not formulated so as to be able to do that, because it changes the specification in the before and after states.

2. So in 2005-2006 Dembski instead defined Specified Complexity. Now it is a measure of how improbably far out we are on the scale of specification, with the improbability defined this time as computed taking not only mutation into account, but also natural selection. Dembski does not say how to compute that probability. Now SC really does rule out natural selection — simply by being defined so as to do so. It thereby becomes a useless add-on quantity, computable only once one has already found some other way to show that the information cannot be put into the genome by natural selection.

McLatchie presumably wants to clear us all up on this, but he seems to be using the definition of 1 with the name of 2. So we end up confused as to whether his quantity can be put into the genome by natural selection, or whether it is a useless after-the-fact add-on to some other argument which establishes that it can’t. And he’s had a whole extra minute.

47 thoughts on “Jonathan McLatchie fails to define Specified Complexity

  1. McLatchie defines Specified Complexity as information that matches a predefined pattern, such as specific protein folds needed to have a particular function.

    The other huge canard by the IDiots is that the examples they use such as above are not predefined. All they did was examine a pattern found in nature, describe it after the fact, then declare it to be predefined. You could do the same thing with any chemical reaction but that wouldn’t make the result be predefined.

  2. There are a few times I side with the Skeptical Zone crowd, and this is one of them. Letting ID be based on various notions of Specified Complexity is building on a shifting foundation. I use the notion (in Orgel’s “definition”) as a qualitative description, not some mathematical approach. My “definition” of specified complexity is more akin to Behe’s, but its a qualitative description, not really a formal basis for arguing ID. The formal basis should be the Law of Large Numbers and basic physics and chemistry.

    i.e. 5 dominos are on a table standing on their edges vs. lying flat. By common understanding of physics, this is an exceptional configuration. There is no need to invoke Specified Complexity to make the case chance and law are not good explanations for such an exceptional configuration. If a physics or math savvy person asked me to explain why 5 dominos standing on edge cannot be explained by law and chance, would I appeal to specified complexity? No. So if specified complexity won’t be appealed to in such a trivial case, why use it for more complex cases. Maybe to make a No Free Lunch argument — that I respect, but I’ve found I’ve not been able to use NFL arguments effectively.

    Instead I point out the real problem for selectionist viewpoints is that selection works really well for reductive evolution and extinction. Plenty of evidence for this by direct observation in the present day. We don’t have much direct observational evidence the net action of selection is constructive. By all counts it follows Behe’s first rule of adaptation, that Rube Goldberg functionality is usually selected against. Selection might maintain existing function, but it cannot select for Rube Goldberg contraptions that don’t yet exist (like say the ability to implement spliceosomal introns).

    Is evolving something as complex as a spleceosomal intron processing system typical or exceptional? If exceptional, how exceptional? If very exceptional to the point of being miraculous, then well, no need for NFL to establish this is not the scientific expectation of evolution’s direction. As a matter of principle, such an event is empirically and thus theoretically far from expectation. And science tends to center on expected outcomes, not ones far from expectation. Natural Selection by Dawkins account claims complexity is the expected outcome, but when looking at the issues squarely, it seems that for Darwinian ideas to work they have to rely on exceptional events not ordinary ones! It’s thus sort of a schizophrenic theory.

    For those reasons, I don’t find much need for the No Free Lunch theorems — there is plenty of observational evidence for the book Darwin should have written : “The Elimination of Species and Complexity by Means of Natural Selection”.

    PS
    where I’ve sided with TSZ:

    1. 2nd law of thermodynamics not evidence of design
    2. specified complexity (partially side) not well defined
    3. ID should not be promoted as science
    4. Forensics is applicable to human design, it is conjecture and by faith that it can be applied to God-made designs

  3. stcordova: For those reasons, I don’t find much need for the No Free Lunch theorems — there is plenty of observational evidence for the book Darwin should have written : “The Elimination of Species and Complexity by Means of Natural Selection”.

    Well, we’re still waiting for “The design of species by an unspecified Intelligent Designer” to fill the gap of where species came from in that case. Will you be writing that?

  4. It is bizarre to me that the ID community keep making this same mistake, over and over.

    I think Dembski gets it: “Search for a Search” is basically a bailout back to fine tuning, although Winston Ewert seemed reluctant to concede this.

    But nobody else seems to have got the memo.

  5. stcordova,

    Well, good. Being able to change one’s mind about an issue is something to be embraced and safeguarded – a mark of a free and open society.

  6. His video is in a series entitled “One Minute Apologist” (he takes 2 minutes).”

    Must be due to gene duplication.

  7. Elizabeth: “Search for a Search” is basically a bailout back to fine tuning,

    Fine tuning is not a bailout it is a boundary. It’s not an abandonment of a position it’s a line in the sand.

    peace

  8. fifthmonarchyman: Fine tuning is not a bailout it is a boundary.It’s not an abandonment of a position it’s a line in the sand.

    peace

    Getting to that “boundary” is necessary, because Dembski’s arguments claiming to show that natural selection cannot achieve good adaptation turned out to be wrong. His Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information does not do the job it was designed for. Natural selection cannot be proven incapable of doing the job by some general Dembski-like theorem. So it’s off to the “boundary” where it is too early for there to be any natural selection.

  9. Title of OP: Jonathan McLatchie fails to define Specified Complexity

    Text of OP: McLatchie defines Specified Complexity as information that matches a predefined pattern.

    Prediction: Definitions don’t matter.

  10. Mung:
    Title of OP: Jonathan McLatchie fails to define Specified Complexity

    Text of OP: McLatchie defines Specified Complexity as information that matches a predefined pattern.

    Prediction: Definitions don’t matter.

    He didn’t define it in a way that matched either of the two the definitions of William Dembski. He didn’t say anything about whether the definition required you to rule out natural selection before declaring that you had attained a sufficient level of Complexity.

    Surely he wasn’t intending to put forward his own, new, definition!

  11. From the OP:

    He [Jonathan McLatchie] never says anything to clarify whether natural selection can put this information into the genome.

    Well, first there would need to be a genome, in order for natural selection to put anything into it. Can we at least agree on that?

  12. Joe Felsenstein: Surely he wasn’t intending to put forward his own, new, definition!

    You mean like when Gregory Bateson defined information as a difference that makes a difference?

    I have a few ID books around here. I could poke around and see if this is a new definition. If I can dredge up the motivation. But I’d hate to think we were just arguing over terms. That’s so blase’ these days.

    Here at the post-modern TSZ we’ve gone beyond such menial tasks. 🙂

  13. Hi Joe,

    If my comments appear cryptic it’s likely because you’ve created an OP that depends on definitions at a time when the importance of definitions has become a hot topic here at TSZ. I’m sure you’ll be quickly brought up to speed. 🙂

    So who cares about definitions. Just get on with your argument. Please.

  14. Mung:
    Hi Joe,

    If my comments appear cryptic it’s likely because you’ve created an OP that depends on definitions at a time when the importance of definitions has become a hot topic here at TSZ. I’m sure you’ll be quickly brought up to speed.

    So who cares about definitions. Just get on with your argument. Please.

    Joe, don’t mind Mung. He’s still pretty butthurt because his attempts at resurrecting the stinky old IDiot arguments based on equivocation of the definitions “code’ and ‘information” got thrashed so badly.

  15. Richardthughes:
    It’s a shame old Mung has come back in Driveby mode.

    He’s pretty busy at the moment over at the Denser place. Barry Arrogant is continuing his attacks on Prof. Larry Moran and Brave Sir Mung is right there hiding behind Barry’s skirt and flinging mud of his own.

  16. Richardthughes: It’s a shame old Mung has come back in Driveby mode.

    My money is on Joe being in drive-by mode.

    But then, my money would also be on Joe knowing what a code is, and on Joe agreeing that the genetic code is a code, and on Joe saying that people who argue otherwise are doing so for reasons that have nothing at all to do with science.

    Richardthughes, did you ever manage to gather enough guts to say that genetic information must represent something? I bet Joe isn’t afraid to say so.

    Three OP’s on the genetic code and one on “Information, Codes and Signs in Living Systems”, and Richardthughes thinks I’m in “Driveby mode.”

    Define “Driveby mode.”

  17. Sure, it’s a code, no problem . What about the entailments? Do it for reciprocating Bill. be brave 😉

  18. Now, we were talking about whether Jonathan McLatchie had given an adequate definition of Specified Complexity. He didn’t, he didn’t make clear which concept of William Dembski he was using, or how it works to show that natural selection cannot bring about high fitness.

    Of course, in his one-minute talk he only had two minutes. But then what was he trying to accomplish? Perhaps he can come here and tell us.

  19. Mung:
    Richardthughes keeps forgetting the question.

    If there is information in the genome, what does it represent?

    Oh I ‘admitted’ there’s information in everything already, silly mung. It tells us how many base pairs, what molecules, how many etc.

    Now about your ongoing dodge?

  20. It is rather amazing how many other topics Mung thinks are relevant here, such as whether DNA sequences are “really a code”. Mung is welcome to discuss those, but were whole other threads for that. I’ll stick to trying to understand what argument McLatchie thought he was making.

  21. Mung,

    It tells us how many base pairs, what molecules, how many etc.

    From this we likely know what creature it is from, and perhaps some of its evolutionary history.

    Do you doubt this?

  22. Joe Felsenstein: It is rather amazing how many other topics Mung thinks are relevant here, such as whether DNA sequences are “really a code”. Mung is welcome to discuss those, but were whole other threads for that. I’ll stick to trying to understand what argument McLatchie thought he was making.

    I can respect that.

    Except for the part where you say: ‘such as whether DNA sequences are “really a code.”‘

    Because I never said any such thing. Which means you just made it up. Sad.

    I’m trying to understand your argument. Is that on topic for this thread? Your argument seems to be about defining terms.

    Can we move on now to what your point is?

  23. Can we move on now to what your point is?

    It’s that I don’t think Jonathan McLatchie said anything coherent about Specified Complexity.

    Is he trying to argue that if SC is present then natural selection cannot explain that? What do you think he meant?

  24. Well, Joe, you just (sadly) happened to post an OP that depended on definition of terms at precisely the most inopportune time here at TSZ. Asking me to speculate on what he meant is asking me to speculate on his definition of terms. Definitions just don’t matter.

    If you want to discuss the biochemical details, just let me know.

  25. Uncommon Descent (in the person of News/O’Leary) seemed very happy with McLatchie’s video, and News taunted “Darwin faithful, create a distraction below”. Because, you know, it’s so incisive there is no way to refute its crushing argument so all “Darwin faithful” can do is to try to distract from the powerful argument.

    I’m just trying to figure out what the argument in the video is supposed to mean, and what it has to do with Dembski’s Complex Specified Information and Specified Complexity arguments.

  26. Mung:
    Mung: If there is information in the genome, what does it represent?

    What is your definition of “information” Brave Sir Mung? Grow a pair for once and provide your definition.

  27. Mung:
    Title of OP: Jonathan McLatchie fails to define Specified Complexity

    Text of OP: McLatchie defines Specified Complexity as information that matches a predefined pattern.

    Prediction: Definitions don’t matter.

    Of course definitions matter.

    But the one you’ve given as McLatchie’s won’t work – who does the predefining? (the definition you gave simply uses the passive voice – the crunch comes when you have to explain how the predefining is done, and by whom).

  28. Elizabeth: Of course definitions matter.

    But the one you’ve given as McLatchie’s won’t work – who does the predefining? (the definition you gave simply uses the passive voice – the crunch comes when you have to explain how the predefining is done, and by whom).

    McLatchie (as I say in the OP) does not make clear whether he is using a definition like Dembski’s 2002-2005 Complex Specified Information, or Demsbki’s 2005 Specified Complexity. The former does not work with any argument that rules out natural selection. The latter builds in that natural selection must already have been determined to not be causing the specified information to be in the genome. And that makes Specified Complexity a useless afterthought.

    The former and the latter are useless to ID arguments, but in different ways. McLatchie makes it sound as if he is using the former argument, but he uses the name “Specified Complexity”.

    So a little clarity from McLatchie would be a great help in seeing whether he has some argument of interest. News/O’Leary and the two UD commenters seem to think that it is obvious to everyone that he has presented a crushing argument, but I don’t see it.

    If we allow the predefined pattern to be high fitness, I think there is no problem in principle for the first definition — except that there is then no argument ruling out that CSI can be put into the genome by selection. If we use that pattern in the second definition, the role of natural selection is ruled out, but then we can never be sure that what we have observed is Specified Complexity.

    Either way McLatchie is triumphantly presenting us with part of an argument that doesn’t work.

  29. I attended a talk this morning given by Winston Ewert. Too smart for his own good, IMO. Thinks things are not worth talking about unless they can be reduced to computer code. 😉

    His presentation included a discussion of how the mathematical concept of specified complexity has changed over time and why that is the case. Seemed reasonable to me. But when I see mathematical equations on the screen something in my brain converts them to images of beautiful women [aren’t all women beautiful?]. So my view might be a tad subjective.

    One might want to avoid equating specified complexity as presented by Jonathan McLatchie with the mathematical representation of specified complexity.

    Map/Territory and all that BS.

  30. One might want to avoid equating anything presented by Jonathan McLatchie and any other IDiot with anything that makes sense.

    It’s all creationist BS.

  31. Elizabeth,

    It is bizarre to me that that is bizarre to you. With your religious background, which is noticeably still in effect to some degree, and with your schooling, work, and years of arguing with IDiots, how can you still not understand why IDiots do what they do?

  32. Mung: One might want to avoid equating specified complexity as presented by Jonathan McLatchie with the mathematical representation of specified complexity.

    Map/Territory and all that BS.

    Trouble is, both are maps!
    I would agree, though- not all these concepts are identical. The important thing (and why I go on about operational definitions so much) is that we define what we are talking about when we make an argument that invokes one of those concepts.

    Too often I see people apply conclusions from one definition to an argument about another. For instance, that Darwinian evolution can’t produce specified complexity. By Dembski’s “specification” definition, that is true – but it is true by definition, it doesn’t flow from the argument.

    But by other mathematically identical definitions, but without the exclusion clause, it may or may not be.

  33. No Free lunch pages 148-49

    Biological specification always refers to function. An organism is a functional system comprising many functional subsystems. In virtue of their function, these systems embody patterns that are objectively given and can be identified independently of the systems that embody them. Hence these systems are specified in the same sense required by the complexity-specification criterion (see sections 1.3 and 2.5). The specification of organisms can be crashed out in any number of ways. Arno Wouters cashes it out globally in terms of the viability of whole organisms. Michael Behe cashes it out in terms of minimal function of biochemical systems. Darwinist Richard Dawkins cashes out biological specification in terms of the reproduction of genes. Thus, in The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins writes, “Complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone. In the case of living things, the quality is specified in advance is…the ability to propagate genes in reproduction.”

    The central problem of biology is therefore not simply the origin of information but the origin of complex specified information. Paul Davies emphasized this point in his recent book The Fifth Miracle where he summarizes the current state of origin-of-life research: “Living organisms are mysterious not for their complexity per se, but for their tightly specified complexity.” The problem of specified complexity has dogged origin-of-life research now for decades. Leslie Orgel recognized the problem in the early 1970s: “Living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals such as granite fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; mixtures of random polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity.”

    Where, then, does complex specified information or CSI come from, and where is it incapable of coming from? According to Manfred Eigen, CSI comes from algorithms and natural laws. As he puts it, “Our task is to find an algorithm, a natural law that leads to the origin of [complex specified] information.” The only question for Eigen is which algorithms and natural laws explain the origin of CSI. The logically prior question of whether algorithms and natural laws are even in principle capable of explaining the origin of CSI is one he ignores. And yet it is this very question that undermines the entire project of naturalistic origins-of-life research. Algorithms and natural laws are in principle incapable of explaining the origin of CSI. To be sure, algorithms and natural laws can explain the flow of CSI. Indeed, algorithms and natural laws are ideally suited for transmitting already existing CSI. As we shall see next, what they cannot do is explain its origin.

  34. Reality:
    Elizabeth,
    It is bizarre to me that that is bizarre to you. With your religious background, which is noticeably still in effect to some degree, and with your schooling, work, and years of arguing with IDiots, how can you still not understand why IDiots do what they do?

    And the admins are hypocrites.

  35. Mung: And the admins are hypocrites.

    Almost as hypocritical as those who whine about the moderation here then scurry back to UD and suck up to the admins there.

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