Meyer has argued that complex specified information (CSI) necessarily comes from an intelligent source. Thus, his book emphasizes demonstrating that DNA information is CSI, and therefore must have come from an intelligent agent. I previously suggested that a better indication of an intelligent source of information is abstraction. Since CSI as defined by Meyer can include both functionality and meaning, it is not an unambiguous indicator of an intelligent source. Rather, abstraction is a more reliable indicator of an intelligent source. In this post, the concepts of information, complexity, abstraction, and intelligence are considered in more detail.
Consider tossing four coins. The resulting sequence of heads and tails would be one of 16 possibilities. The amount of information is proportional to the base 2 logarithm of the number of possibilities, or 4 bits. That can be more easily determined by counting the number of coins, but in the more general case the mathematical form is more useful.
Imagine taking these four coins and grinding them perfectly smooth on both sides so that the two sides are indistinguishable. In this case, tossing the four coins leads to zero information since all possible outcomes are equivalent and there can be only one result. This illustrates how physical complexity is necessary to store or convey information. Smooth coins do not convey abstract information. There must be at least enough physical complexity so that the two sides of each coin are distinguishable in order to represent classic heads/tails information. Of course some information is still present in the particular shape of the coins. Simple functionality can be present, such as serving as a slug in a vending machine.
Next, consider modifying the smooth coins in any manner so that the two sides are distinguishable. The assignment of “heads” or “tails”, or if one prefers “0” or “1”, is a process of abstraction. The label “heads” has no necessary relationship to the physical feature that distinguishes that side of the coin. The ability to make such an abstract assignment is a unique characteristic of intelligence. For this reason, information characterized by abstraction is a good indicator of an intelligent source. On the other hand, the presence of complexity, per se, need not require any intelligent agent.
Finally, we consider another case whereby the two sides of the coins are distinguished by its chemical properties rather than by any other feature. For example, one side could be copper and the other side gold. Tossing these coins on an oxidizing surface would result in a pattern of chemical reactivity that conveys complexity. No abstraction is involved but there is chemical functionality. Technically, the amount of information is the same in both cases, but in one case there is abstraction, an indicator of intelligence, while in the other there is chemical functionality, but no evidence of intelligence.
Four coins are too simple a system to meet the complexity requirement of CSI but the principle scales up. Abstraction at any degree of simplicity or complexity indicates an intelligent source. Functionality alone, with no abstraction, may or may not involve an intelligent source at any degree of complexity.
In summary, information is inherently associated with physical complexity. That complexity can be associated with significance as assigned by an intelligent agent through a process of abstract reasoning. Alternatively, that complexity can be associated with a type of functionality that depends on the chemical and physical properties of the system. It can also be a mixture of abstraction and physical properties. The unique indicator of an intelligent source of information is abstraction. For DNA, no such abstraction is evident. This does not mean that an intelligent agent is not involved, it just means that the existence of DNA information does not require its source to be an intelligent agent.