Being a Nice Jewish BoyTM, Christmas is one of the most boring days of the
entire year. So yesterday, I was sitting with my laptop, looking for something interesting to read. I try to regularly read the [Panda’s Thumb][pt], but sometimes when I don’t have time, I just drop a bookmark in my “to read” folder; so on a boring Christmas afternoon, my PT backlog seemed like exactly what I needed.
[One of the articles in my backlog caught my interest.][pt-sc] (I turned out to be short enough that I should have just read it instead of dropping it into the backlog, but hey, that’s how things go sometimes!) The article was criticizing that genius of intelligent design, Sal Cordova, and [his article about Zebrafish and the genetics of regeneration
in some zebrafish species.][sc] I actually already addressed Sal’s argument [here][bm-sc].
What I wanted to comment on was the PT critique of Sal’s foolish statement. Sal’s article
>In information science, it is empirically and theoretically shown that
>noise destroys specified complexity, but cannot create it. Natural
>selection acting on noise cannot create specified complexity. Thus,
>information science refutes Darwinian evolution. The following is a
>great article that illustrates the insufficiency of natural selection
>to create design.
This is an entirely bogus statement. What concerned me, though, was the rebuttal
from the Pim van Meurs at PT:
>In fact, quite to the contrary, simple experiments have shown that the processes of natural
>selection and variation can indeed create specified complexity. In other words, contrary to
>the scientifically vacuous claims of Sal, science has shown that information science, rather
>than refuting Darwinian evolution, has ended up strongly supporting it.
Plenty of simple experiments have shown that evolution can create complexity,
irreducible complexity, etc. But complex specified information is a meaningless quantity – it
*cannot* be measured. It can only be described in informal, unquantifiable ways. By admitting
to the validity of this thoroughly nonsensical concept, we give creationists like
Sal an undeserved gift that aids their arguments.
As I’ve [said before][specnonsense], specified complexity *is a meaningless term in
information theory*. Complexity is, pretty clearly, the same thing as complexity commonly
means in information theory – that is, information content or entropy.
*Specification* is the problem. It’s used in two different ways in discussions by IDists. One of them is precisely the *opposite* of complexity – that is, it means that there is a precise, complete description of the system which is *short* – meaning that it is a system with *low* information content. If you use this definition of specification, then “specified complexity” means “a system which contains a lot of information but which doesn’t contain a lot of information.” In other words, the definition is self-contradictory – and therefore *nothing* can have CSI.
The other sense in which specification is used is for a system which can be *informally*
described in a concise way. Reduced to information theoretic terms, it means that you can take
a system with high information complexity, and *partially* describe the system with a very
small amount of information in a way that allows an intelligent observer to recognize that the
complex system matches the simple partial description. Well, again from information theory,
you can *always* extract a short *partial* description where there is a simple predicate for
recognizing whether a full complex system matches the partial description. (For example,
that’s exactly what [digital signatures][digsig] do.) In this case, *everything* complex
The trick that IDists use is to present the “complexity” part in a formal way, but
the “specification” part informally – that is, the specification is an english sentence
recognizable by a human as a concise description of the system. But “comprehensible by a human” is not a meaningful term in the mathematics of information theory. In IT, the short description is no different from a digital signature – a small piece of summary information
with a simple predicate for verifying whether the full information matches the summary.
So CSI can be either a meaningless term that includes all complex systems, or it can be
a meaningless term that cannot include any systems at all. We shouldn’t try to debate
the IDists by arguing about whether or not CSI can be produced in any particular way,
when the entire argument is predicated on nonsense. It’s like trying to build a skyscraper on shifting sand; the foundation is rotten, and no matter how well you design and build the skyscraper, it’s still going to fall down.