Upright Biped’s “Semiotic Theory” redux.

I have been having an exchange with Upright Biped here about his perception of how his “semiotic theory of Intelligent Design” has fared among sceptics. In the hope that he will be prepared to re-engage with us in addressing a few outstanding points, I post his argument, originally published at lawyer Barry Arrington’s Uncommon Descent blog

1.  A representation is an arrangement of matter which evokes an effect within a system (e.g. written text, spoken words, pheromones, animal gestures, codes, sensory input, intracellular messengers, nucleotide sequences, etc, etc).


2.  It is not logically possible to transfer information (the form of a thing; a measured aspect, quality, or preference) in a material universe without using a representation instantiated in matter.


3.  If that is true, and it surely must be, then several other things must logically follow. If there is now an arrangement of matter which contains a representation of form as a consequence of its own material arrangement, then that arrangement must be necessarily arbitrary to the thing it represents. In other words, if one thing is to represent another thing within a system, then it must be separate from the thing it represents. And if it is separate from it, then it cannot be anything but materially arbitrary to it (i.e. they cannot be the same thing).


4.  If that is true, then the presence of that representation must present a material component to the system (which is reducible to physical law), while its arrangement presents an arbitrary component to the system (which is not reducible to physical law).


5.  If that is true, and again it surely must be, then there has to be something else which establishes the otherwise non-existent relationship between the representation and the effect it evokes within the system. In fact, this is the material basis of Francis Crick’s famous ‘adapter hypothesis’ in DNA, which lead to a revolution in the biological sciences. In a material universe, that something else must be a second arrangement of matter; coordinated to the first arrangement as well as to the effect it evokes.


6.  It then also follows that this second arrangement must produce its unambiguous function, not from the mere presence of the representation, but from its arrangement.  It is the arbitrary component of the representation which produces the function.


7.  And if those observations are true, then in order to actually transfer recorded information, two discrete arrangements of matter are inherently required by the process; and both of these objects must necessarily have a quality that extends beyond their mere material make-up. The first is a representation and the second is a protocol (a systematic, operational rule instantiated in matter) and together they function as a formal system. They are the irreducible complex core which is fundamentally required in order to transfer recorded information.


8.  During protein synthesis, a selected portion of DNA is first transcribed into mRNA, then matured and transported to the site of translation within the ribosome. This transcription process facilitates the input of information (the arbitrary component of the DNA sequence) into the system. The input of this arbitrary component functions to constrain the output, producing the polypeptides which demonstrate unambiguous function.


9.  From a causal standpoint, the arbitrary component of DNA is transcribed to mRNA, and those mRNA are then used to order tRNA molecules within the ribosome. Each stage of this transcription process is determined by the physical forces of pair bonding. Yet, which amino acid appears at the peptide binding site is not determined by pair bonding; it is determined  by the aaRS. In other words, which amino acid appears at the binding site is only evoked by the physical structure of the nucleic triplet, but is not determined by it. Instead, it is determined (in spatial and temporal isolation) by the physical structure of the aaRS. This is the point of translation; the point where the arbitrary component of the representation is allowed to evoke a response in a physically determined system – while preserving the arbitrary nature of the representation.


10.  This physical event, translation by a material protocol, as well as the transcription of a material representation, is ubiquitous in the transfer of recorded information.


CONCLUSION:  These two physical objects (the representation and protocol) along with the required preservation of the arbitrary component of the representation, and the production of unambiguous function from that arbitrary component, confirm that the transfer of recorded information in the genome is just like any other form of recorded information. It’s an arbitrary relationship instantiated in matter.


My personal view is that there are a couple of basic faults with UB’s argument. It appears to address origin-of-life (OOL) theories rather than than the theory of evolution (ToE) and it is a default argument; “OOL fails, therefore Intelligent Design”. I have no training in logic, so Reciprocating Bill’s comments, later taken up by keiths, have been a bit over my head. It is a shame that UB seemed to lose interest in defending his argument before we got to the meat of the biochemistry, where I have a little knowledge, now outdated, as this is where his argument really falls apart for me. I think the attempt to link semiosis to protein synthesis just fails utterly.

I invite other critics of Upright Biped’s argument to briefly summarize, paste or link their queries or objections in the hope that Upright Biped may find the time to respond.


Elizabeth has devoted some considerable time to considering Upright Biped’s semiotic argument as previous threads, such as this one demonstrate.

152 thoughts on “Upright Biped’s “Semiotic Theory” redux.

  1. Steve,
    So you know the answer. It was “ID”.

    Remind me what the question was again? As it seems to me that the same answer can be given to many many questions.

    The origin of species – ID
    The origin of biological replicators – ID
    The origin of DNA – ID

    etc etc. All question have the same answer, or as you put it “the default is ID”.

    And sure, you could make an argument that “evolution”  has the same problem. 

    The origin of species – Evolution.

    And many ID folk do make that argument. Yet the crucial difference is that all of those questions have answers longer then a single word. In fact, some of those questions have entire books written!

    Can the same be said for ID’s answers? What is the ID “explanation” for DNA other then “it was designed”.  

    So keep going with your “default assumptions”. It’s been the case for almost all of human history and where exactly has it got you?  

  2. Neither Upright BiPed nor any other ID proponent have ever answered some very simple yet essential questions:

    • What did the designer do?
    • When did the designer do it?
    • How did the designer do it?
    • Where did the designer do it?
    • Who or what is the designer?

    Unless and until these questions are answered, ID isn’t an explanation of anything and is certainly not a scientific alternative to the theory of evolution.

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