In light of the comments by Jon and Bill, I’d like to devote this post to restating what I’ve already posted but in somewhat different terms to hopefully make it clearer. I’m trying to make two specific points.
Point #1: Meyer devotes his book to showing that CSI always comes from an intelligent source and since DNA information is CSI, then DNA information can only come from an intelligent source. He also shows that there are two types of CSI, “function” and “meaning”, and that DNA information is of the function type. My question and concern is that Meyer has not provided convincing evidence that CSI always comes from an intelligent source. Two problems come to mind. Firstly, his argument is inductive in nature, claiming that all examples of CSI are from intelligent sources. Unfortunately, it is not a compelling conclusion that CSI must therefore always come from an intelligent source. Secondly, all of his examples of CSI coming from intelligent sources are of the “meaning” type, and there is no reason to expect that information of the “function” type must have the same source.
Point #2: I also suggest that rather than using CSI as an indicator of information with an intelligent source, Meyer’s categories of “function” and “meaning” may be more appropriate and useful, if defined more precisely. The former type may or may not have an intelligent source while the latter always does, even if it isn’t complex or specified. How can “function” and “meaning” be distinguished? All information is physical and is embodied in physical complexity. In “function” type of information, the information has a necessary relationship to the physical complexity that conveys it, whereas in “meaning” type, the information has a contingent relationship. That contingency is based on abstract reasoning and is a clear indicator of intelligence.
Several examples may be useful to help understand these concepts. First of all, let us consider a simple coin toss. As stated in a previous post, coins with smooth, indistinguishable surfaces do not convey any information. The coins need some physical complexity. But that complexity does not have a necessary relationship to the designation of “heads” or “tails.” It is a contingent relationship meaning that the H or T designation is not required by the specific physical configuration. Even a picture of a head could be designated “tails.” Clearly, this is an example of “meaning” type of information and an intelligent source is required to generate it.
A second example is language. The first letter of the English alphabet is recognizable from its distinctive shape. But there is nothing in that shape that requires it to be designated as the first letter of the alphabet. Such designation is contingent and is based on abstract reasoning. In language there are many levels of meaning, from alphabet to word vocabulary to sentence structure. Intelligent sources provide that abstract meaning.
Another clear example is computer code and, in general, all digital information technology. All information is stored, processed, or transmitted as the binary digits, or bits, “0” or “1”. The physical configuration may be a voltage level, or a charge on a capacitor, or a polarization state of a magnetic domain. None of these physical states has a necessary relationship to either a “0” or a “1”. The assignment is arbitrary and, as long as the system is consistent, doesn’t affect the outcome. Therefore, all digital information is of the “meaning” type, at many different levels, and at the most fundamental level.
Numbers are also of the “meaning” type. Meyer uses several examples of telephone numbers to illustrate CSI. However, numbers can indicate an intelligent source even if they are not complex or specified. The number “3” for example conveys meaning of the number of objects. The physical configuration of the numeral does not have a necessary relationship to the number of objects. It is contingent and comes from an intelligent source. Imagine, on the other hand, that in a forest with no intelligent beings, three twigs fall from a tree and lie side by side on the ground. Their presence indicates three objects as a necessary and not a contingent consequence. It cannot be easily determined whether an intelligent agent had deliberately arranged the twigs to indicate “three” or whether they fell from the tree. Abstraction is not evident.
DNA information is of the “function” type, as Meyer points out. Close examination shows that this information has a necessary relationship to the chemical structure of the physical configuration expressing the information. The information conveyed and expressed at any step of the activity of a living cell is the chemical reactivity itself, not a contingent meaning assigned to it. Though many complex and specific functions are exhibited, there are no examples of abstraction in the operation of a living cell. Perhaps an intelligent agent is involved at some level but it cannot be determined from the nature of DNA information.
In summary, abstraction seems to be a useful indicator of whether or not an intelligent agent is required for the generation of information. Physical complexity is always a necessary part of information but that complexity may or may not be generated by an intelligent agent and it may or may not have meaning associated with it. Where we find evidence of abstraction, we can be confident of an intelligent source. One way to detect that abstraction is to examine the relationship between information and the physical complexity that embodies it. Contingence indicates abstraction while necessity does not. All the examples that Meyer provides to show that CSI comes from an intelligent source show contingence. DNA information does not. It appears that DNA information does not necessarily come from an intelligent agent.