Information and complexity

A more detailed explanation of how to think about information and complexity can be found in a recent lecture I gave at Gordon College. To follow the lecture, it is helpful to have these notes.

I’ll try to summarize the key points here once more.
Information is physical complexity which may occur through natural causes or crafted by intelligent agents. How can one determine when information is generated by an intelligent agent? Meyer focuses his book on the ID claim that when information is complex and specified, it necessarily comes from an intelligent source. Information, he states, can be specified either by being “functional” or by having “meaning.” He shows that DNA information is of the “functional” type.
The question is raised here whether Meyer has adequately demonstrated the claim that both “functional” and “meaning” type of information must come from intelligence. I suggest that only the “meaning” part has that characteristic and not the purely “functional.” The rationale is that “meaning” is the abstract significance applied to a physical configuration, a feat characteristic of intelligence. All the examples Meyer brings forth to demonstrate how information comes from an intelligent source involve “meaning” or a mixture of “meaning” and “function.” Functional configurations can occur in nature that are quite complex and need not have an intelligent source. This leaves open the question of whether DNA information was derived from an intelligent source.

The second claim examined in the lecture deals with the post on historical causal analysis. To be scientific, a claim for having detected a designer for some event, must involve a designer whose existence and means of design must be independently observable. An indeterminate designer does not meet that criterion.

27 comments to Information and complexity

  • Larry Parsons

    NO WONDER YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND ME – I CAN’T TYPE!!  HERE IS WHAT I MEANT TO SAY WITHOUT THE MISSING WORDS
    I must not be making myself clear – let me try it another way.

    I assert that if you present to me an artifact, such as a sculpture of a familiar complex object (such as a the miniture T. rex), the object alone is sufficient for me to infer intelligent agency as its source.

    You assert that the artifact alone is insufficient to infer intelligent agency – you must also know when the object was created.

    My question that I wish for you to address is this: What type of evidence could be adduced that would falsify your assertion?
    Larry

  • Randy Isaac

    Larry, I’m puzzled. When did I ever assert that one “must also know when the object was created?” If I ever said that, I certainly retract it.
    I’m saying nothing more than what Meyer and Dembski say. One must be able to relate the artifact to independent patterns, in Dembski’s terminology. Meyer cites Lyell, Darwin, and Scriven as saying one must show causal existence and causal adequacy. I use a little different terminology but it amounts to the same thing. One must be able to study independently the agents and the methodology that are able to make such an artifact.

    If you claim that the artifact was created by a chimpanzee, one can do studies with chimps to see whether or not they are indeed capable of such a design and if such chimps might have existed when the artifact was made. It is a scientific endeavor and can be falsified. If you claim that the artifact was created by a hobbit, how does one study their existence and capability? Reading Tolkein? It isn’t a scientific quest.

    You claim that “the object alone is sufficient for me to infer intelligent agency as its source” but you couldn’t even make that statement unless you knew something independently about intelligent sources.

    Randy

    Randy

  • Larry Parsons

    You’re right – you didn’t directly say what I had you assert – my bad.  I deduced that from the response you gave when the T. rex sculpture was dated at 70 million years old.
     
    You do assert that the inference to intelligent agency is only valid if the intelligent agent can be studied – so in the case of a artifact such as a sculpture, the only such agent, in your mind, must be human.  My question is (pace Scriven, et.al.) what evidence could be adduced that would falsify this assertion (or is this assertion unfalsifiable)?
    Larry

  • Randy Isaac

    Larry, you can falsify that assertion by explaining logically how for an observed effect, one could scientifically verify its causal relationship to a cause than cannot be observed.
    Randy

  • Larry Parsons

    Randy,
    Falsifying your assertion hinges on what you mean by “scientifically” – if you define it like you do “abstraction,” where inherit in the definition humans MUST play a role, then the assertion is not falsifiable.  In fact, it is a faith position.
     
    If there were an intelligent race of animals on the earth that predated humans, and that left artifacts that bore intelligence, it seems, by your stance, that one could not “scientifically” conclude that such a race of animals existed and possessed intelligence.  I’m not talking about “God” or any other non-physical being – I’m talking animals.  Am I wrong about this?
     
    Larry

  • Randy Isaac

    Larry, I’m not sure how you draw these conclusions but I don’t think any of that follows from what I said. I don’t think that it is by definition that humans must play a role. I don’t even know what that means. I presume you don’t mean that non-humans are carrying out the science. And in your second paragraph I don’t know why you think we can’t scientifically study the level of intelligence of, say, early primate ancestors.

    Perhaps I caused the confusion by failing to be clear about what I mean by a “cause that cannot be observed.” Maybe I should give some examples which might make it clearer than trying to give another definition.

    Examples of causal agents that CAN be observed:
    –dogs
    –chimps
    –hominids
    –dinosaurs
    –pre-Cambrian creatures
    –Big Bang
    –SuperNova explosions that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago
    –and the list goes on almost infinitely

    Examples of causal agents that CANNOT be observed:
    –unicorns
    –hobbits
    –orcs
    –ents
    –druids

    does that help?

    Randy

  • Larry Parsons

    Hi Randy,
     
    Yes – it actually helps tremendously.  So by “observed”,  you don’t mean “real time observations as the agent is performing the task” but “study effects (such as artifacts) and date these effects (by whatever means).  Then, see what organisms (mythical characters need not apply) are also dated to the same time frame and in the same area as the effect and consider if there is any causal link.”
    I’m I getting close to what you mean?
     
    Larry

  • Randy Isaac

    BINGO! You got it!
    Randy

 

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