The Chewbacca Defense?

Eric Anderson, at UD writes, to great acclaim

Well said. You have put your finger on the key issue.

And the evidence clearly shows that there are not self-organizing processes in nature that can account for life.

This is particularly evident when we look at an information-rich medium like DNA. As to self-organization of something like DNA, it is critical to keep in mind that the ability of a medium to store information is inversely proportional to the self-ordering tendency of the medium. By definition, therefore, you simply cannot have a self-ordering molecule like DNA that also stores large amounts of information.

The only game left, as you say, is design.

Unless, of course, we want to appeal to blind chance . . .

Can anyone make sense of this? EA describes DNA as “an information rich molecule”. Then as a “self-ordering molecule”. Is he saying that DNA is self-ordering therefore can’t store information? Or that it does store information,therefore can’t be self-ordering? Or that because it is both it must be designed? And in any case, is the premise even true? And what “definition” is he talking about? Who says that “the ability of a medium to store information is inversely proportional to the self-ordering tendency fo the medium?” By what definition of “information” and “self-ordering” might this be true? And is it supposed to be an empirical observation or a mathematical proof?

55 Replies to “The Chewbacca Defense?”

  1. OMagain

    So your reason for being an ID supporter is

    You guys helped- by not being able to provide a testable hypothesis nor any positive evidence for teh claim.

    I’m sure all your friends at UD will be glad to hear that your support for ID is built on a perceived lack of evidence for alternatives, rather then a solid foundation built on positive evidence. Evidence like FSCO/I.

    And I ahve explained why I am an ID supporter. OTOH no one seems to be able to explain why they support evolutionism.

    They don’t support it. They accept it as the most evidenced hypothesis currently available.

    I have, in a response to you, just minutes ago.

    If you did that, please note the comment number as it’s quite a big claim that you and ID have identified the missing ingredient in life (other then matter and energy).

    What have I learned? That there is more to living organisms than just matter and energy.

    That was in comment 123. Your comment 135 notes that you have already told me what that missing ingredient is.

    Joe, pick a number between 123 and 135…..

  2. Lizzie

    Eric writes:

    Lizzie via Alan Fox @98:

    I think what Eric might mean is that if a system is highly deterministic (given state A, it must attain state B) it can’t store additional information, because A already contains all you need to get to B.

    No. What I mean is that if a medium (nucleotides, amino acids, letters in a language, etc.) has a tendency to self order, then that tendency will proportionally reduce the information carrying capacity of the medium. What this means is that we cannot rely on self-ordering scenarios to produce the information, because the self-ordering process works against the medium’s information carrying capacity, as I have described in detail earlier.

    I’m not sure I follow this. Let’s say we have a self-replicating peptide that catalyses the formation of the enzymes required for its self-replication. How does that reduce its information carrying capacity? It seems to me that the information itself includes the information required to effect the self-replication. In fact, you could argue that all the information in DNA is information that is required to effect the replication of the DNA, including the building of the cell and/or the organism that is replicated along with it.

    This does not mean that a self-replicating system cannot carry information (obviously it can). This does not mean that reproducing organisms cannot carry information (obviously they do).

    Can, and must, I’d say. A self-replicator that contains no information is a sort of married bachelor, isn’t it?

    This does not mean that a guided/designed process cannot counteract the self-ordering tendency of a medium and nevertheless store information in the medium; but if so, it will be in spite of, not because of, the self-ordering tendency.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand this part either. I think perhaps I don’t know what Eric means by “self-ordering tendency”. It’s obviously true that if I write a letter on a self-ordering object, its self-ordering processes may mangle my letter. But that’s because I have imposed some extrinsic information pattern on the object. In fact, the object may carry less information when I’ve finished with it than when I started, and I might also have managed to destroy its self-ordering properties as well (tries to imagine writing a letter on a cat….)

    The takeaway is that self-ordering ideas (or self-organization scenarios, as they are often called) about the formation of information-rich molecules like DNA/RNA, the formation of life, and the formation of other information-rich systems are non-starters. Such law-like processes cannot produce the kinds of information-rich systems we see.

    I don’t see how. Law-like processes are actually rather good at producing information-rich patterns. Look at Mandebrot sets for instance. Or, indeed, the output of a genetic algorithm.

    This does not mean that it didn’t happen by purely natural and material processes. Remember, we still have that all-important materialist explanation for the origin of biological information: chance.

    No, that isn’t the “all-important materialist explanation for the origin of biological information”. The “materialist” (well, scientific) explanation for the origin of biological information is the tendency of population self-replicating entities (even very simple ones) to evolve to become better self-replicators – it’s no more “chance” than the tendency of things to roll down hill, although, like things rolling down hill, it’s a stochastic process, and “chance” can both help and hinder along the way.

    Or that third possibility: design. But some are loathe to consider that option.

    Not at all. But then, I’d argue that design itself is the result of the same kind of algorithm – following promising leads, abandoning ideas that seem to be going nowhere. The big difference is that Designers generally have brains, and brains have this wonderful property of being able to construct virtual prototypes – to forward-model an idea, and feed back the simulated consequences into the design process so that only those ideas that pass at least the simulation test get actually tried out. And they are also, by the same token, able to combine ideas from different “idea lineages” – add wheels to a box, floats to a plane, camera to a phone, which evolution can’t do. But it can do a heck of a lot all the same (and, interestingly, we don’t see what it can’t do, happening).

    However, there is no evidence for anything without a brain designing anything. And no evidence for anything with a brain designing biology, at least before people came along.

  3. Mike Elzinga

    Now that the “responses” over at UD have gone on for a couple of days, we still don’t see any evidence that they understand.

    They got hooked on the Saturn hexagon and are trying to poo-poo it away. I gave that, along with superconductivity, as an example of a simple system in which self-organization takes place, but now they want to argue about “information.” They didn’t pick up on the fact that these are relatively simple systems compared to what condensed matter is capable of doing. Nor do they understand what fundamental concepts are involved here.

    As I indicated, they don’t understand enough to be able to do an elementary calculation that a high school physics/chemistry student can do; and they still cannot pass a concept test on entropy. I’m not holding my breath for them to even try.

    However, they still want to do what every ID/creationist does; namely they want to assert that there is something “special” about the molecules of life. Self-organization arises at ALL levels of complexity in condensed matter systems. The molecules of life are no exception; “information” doesn’t push atoms and molecules around.

    So they are right back to their same problem: where along the chain of complexity do the laws of physics and chemistry leave off and “information” has to step in to do the job that physics and chemistry cannot do? How does “information” push atoms and molecules around?

    When you don’t understand the basics, making up a pseudoscience to replace what you refuse to learn just continues to make you look foolish.

    I would insist that they take those tests in order to demonstrate that they can begin to have a discussion; but it is clear that they simply cannot.

  4. Mike Elzinga

    More proof by assertion from Eric Anderson.

    The takeaway is that self-ordering ideas (or self-organization scenarios, as they are often called) about the formation of information-rich molecules like DNA/RNA, the formation of life, and the formation of other information-rich systems are non-starters. Such law-like processes cannot produce the kinds of information-rich systems we see.

    And in the very next comment by Anderson:

    So let me restate my last sentence just so everyone is clear about the context and we are on the same page:

    “By definition, therefore, you simply cannot have a molecule like DNA arise through purely natural self-organization processes and also store large amounts of information.”

    And who gets cited in the next comment by Optimus? Why none other than self-citing David L. Abel and his hand-waving assertions in The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity.

    This is rather interesting because we ripped that paper to pieces right here on The Skeptical Zone. Abel not only cites himself, he funds the publication through an organization right out of his house; i.e., he funds himself. And he abuses Shannon information in order to “disprove” assertions that he himself makes but have nothing to do with the way atoms and molecules actually behave.

    So all we are seeing so far are more ID/creationists over at UD continuing their misconceptions and misrepresentations about atoms and molecules, attributing those misconceptions and misrepresentations to “evolutionists,” and then asserting that atoms and molecules can’t do these things that they assert.

    Not one of those people over at UD appears to have the slightest idea of the nature of their misconceptions and misrepresentations. By not being able to even start on a simple scaling up calculation; and by not even beginning to understand what entropy and the second law are all about, they dismiss all of chemistry and physics as though they are totally irrelevant.

    They want to cram “information” into places where it doesn’t belong; and then they want to assert that chemistry and physics can’t explain their “information” that now does the business of pushing atoms and molecules around.

    Nobody is under any obligation to explain why ID/creationist pseudoscientific assertions about atoms and molecules can’t do the job. And by their continuing, self-enforced ignorance of science, there isn’t any scientific explanation that will have any meaning for them; therefore they “always win.”

    This is why kairosfocus retorts in his comments 115 and 116 with an assertion that an analog demonstration, done with magnets to illustrate a point, demonstrates design. Because he cannot do simple calculations, kairosfocus simply cannot grasp the sheer magnitude of what he is dismissing with a sneer.

    It is impossible to teach these characters any science; they will have none of it. It is a socio/political objective with them. Winning by force of ignorance is a political game; not a scholarly discussion.

  5. Allan Miller

    “By definition, therefore, you simply cannot have a molecule like DNA arise through purely natural self-organization processes and also store large amounts of information.”

    The beauty of DNA/RNA is precisely their capacity to ‘self-organise’. The double-stranded forms of the molecule consist of two single strands stabilising each other. The double stranded form often forms spontaneously, which is why RNA can be used as a highly specific sequence probe (eg ISH, in situ hybridisation). In a milieu in which fragile single stranded RNA suffers attrition, double stranded RNA will persist longer, without the need for polymerase to form it – simply the stochastic presence of complementary sequence pairs in the mix. Not Life, but still, self-organisation without any ‘informatic’ requirement. How ‘large’ an amount of info storage such a system needs to get better at stabilising itself is yet to be determined, but catalytic RNAs 4 or 5 nucleotides in length are known.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.