Complex Specified Information…

or (as the rest of us call it) probability.

Simply put, complex specified information is information that is both complex and specified, such that it is highly improbable and specific. The complexity of the information associated with event A is related to the number of bits I(A) associated with probability P(A) of a given event occurring such that I(A) = -log2 P(A). The result is the the more complex information is the more improbable it is.

I’ve seen this statement enough to know it’s pretty representative of the ID argument.

The link to CSI gives an example.  There’s some obvious fallacies (and some very subtle effects one must be alert for) to the entire argument whose conclusion is “The result is that information in DNA is so complex and specified that even making the most reasonable assumptions, it is impossible for the information in DNA to come about by chance.”

What is information

Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message (utterance or expression) or collection of messages in an orderedsequence that consists of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as signs, or conveyed as signals. Information is any kind of event that affects the state of a dynamic system. The concept has numerous other meanings in different contexts. [1] Moreover, the concept of information is closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, representation, and especially entropy.

So there is A LOT to information.  Notice how the definition of CSI does not include what aspect of ‘information’ they are attempting to discuss.  Let me give an example of why that is an epic failure on the part of the Intelligent Design movement.

Let’s say that you are playing poker, specifically 7-card poker.  What are the odds that you would get royal flush (A, K, Q, J, T all in the same suit)?  Well, this is highly improbably.  In fact the probability is about 0.0032%.  That’s pretty improbable.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that the odds of getting this hand: A, 2, 4, 7, Q all in the same suit is also 0.0032%.  But that hand is worthless to us.

There is a fundamental difference between information as meaningful and information as a message.  Meaning and the message are two completely different things.  You can receive (and you do) millions of messages each day that have no meaning for you.  You hear the wind in the trees.  You hear a dog barking.  You have radiant energy in thousands of wavelengths you can’t sense.  All that stuff has no meaning for you.

Occasionally, you can extract meaningful data from the message, even if you can’t understand the message.  Consider cryptography.  Many messages are encoded to hide their meaning to an outside observer.  To that observer, modern cryptology renders the meaning totally meaningless… often little more than white noise.

But a clever person, with lots of data, may be able to extract meaningful information.  For example, if after 5 seconds of white noise at a very specific frequency, a ship changes direction… that’s a clue.  If the observer watches carefully and notes that a ship always changes direction after that frequency, then they might have discovered the enemy naval frequency.  They can then triangulate that frequency and find the enemy naval base… without knowing a single thing behind the messages.

I think that this is what ID proponents wish that they could do.  Extract meaning, from otherwise garbled information.

Let’s go back to that example on creationwiki.

The statement

The best example of complex specified information is DNA. The DNA of each organism on Earth is unique, because of mutations and other factors, making it the most specified form of information known. The human genome contain more than 30,000 genes, at an estimated 3,000 base pairs per gene for a minimum of 90,000,000 base pairs or 90,000,000 base 4 bits. This results is 490,000,000 or 1054,185,399 possible combinations, the overwhelming majority of with are not viable. So the odds of hitting any individual’s DNA by chance is P = 10-54,185,399 with I = 179,999,999 bits. So DNA is both incredibly complex and specific.

Is true… if that was how DNA was formed.  If you mix a bunch of nucleic acids together in a vat and expect to get a fully functioning human genome out (preferably that of Kari Byron) then it would be a massively rare occurrence.  Not impossible, but very rare.

Of course, there is no competent scientist who would even suggest that is how things happen.  A living, functioning human did not come from a vast vat of raw nucleic acids, where the entire genome was assembled nucleic acid by nucleic acid.  No.  That human had parents, who had parents, who had parents, who had parents… ad infinitum (or nearly so) all the way back to that first replicator that still wasn’t the simplest bit of DNA/RNA that ever existed either.  (See my Origins of Life category for lots more about that.)

I like to use this analogy to explain it to those that don’t get it.

The DNA sequence is not like a poker hand.  The DNA sequence is more like a poker game, where only the winning hands keep playing and where what is a winning hand changes depending on what table you are at.

Imagine a poker game with 1000 tables.  There are 9 players at each table.  The dealer passes out one card to every player.  The players compare cards and only the highest card and one random player at the table can stay to play.  So seven out of 9 players are gone with the first card.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.  Get 7 more players at the table (let’s call them ‘offspring’) and every one those players starts with one of the same cards of the players that stayed.  A lot of tables will have aces, many will have kings, there will probable even be a few tables with jacks, tens or even lower as the winning card, the other card could be anything.

Now the dealer passes out the next card.  Again, the player with the highest hand stays and one random player stays.  Maybe there is a roulette wheel at each table, but instead of numbers it has requirements for staying in.  Things like “two cards both higher than jacks” or “one card an ace and one a 7″.  So sometimes you get several players that stay (at this point, it would be easy to get two or more players with the same top pair) and sometimes only one and he may have a crappy hand.

Repeat this process for every card.  Everyone at every table gets another card.  Everyone compares their current hand to either each other (for the winning hand) or to the requirements to stay in the game.  People who don’t match those are gone.  Fill the table with people who have exactly the same hands as the players who stayed.

Now, if you want to get crazy.  Get every player 3 6-sided dice.  When they first sit down, they roll all three dice.  If 3 sixes come up, then they can either swap a card in their hand for any other card at the table (let’s call this ‘crossing over’) or they can request to lose a card and replaced it with one from the deck (let’s call this ‘mutation’).

Now, the final bit.  After this repeats seven times, all 9000 players now have a 7 card poker hand.  But that’s not all… oh no, it gets worse.  Now, the game head referee, gets a new unopened deck of cards.  Shuffles them according to regulation and deals the first 7 cards.  The player that has that exact matching hand is declared the winner.

If there is no winner (and there likely isn’t (remember the odds)) then the whole game keeps going… forever.

And that is a very simple and straightforward analogy to what has actually happened in the development of life on this planet.

The entire idea of complex specified information, in spite of being poorly define and never actually used for anything, is still utterly useless.

Information needs to be defined.  Meaning is not the only measure of information… it’s not even the best measure for information and it isn’t calculable.  There are measurable definitions for information, but they are useless for the discussion of biology because they have to do with the transmission of data over noisy lines.

Specified needs to be defined.  Who has to ‘specify’?  Why?  In my example above, the environment specifies the winner and that value changes every round… just like in the real world.

Complex needs to be defined. Why is a value of X too improbable and therefore a designer did it?  Why that value?  Why not X-1?  What is the meaning of that value.  Is it a firm point.  X-1 is NOT designed, but X is?

Finally, a point that no one in the ID community even can recognize.  There is not a single thing in the entire collection of Intelligent Design literature that requires that the designer be ‘intelligent’.  Nothing.

They think that it is so, because everything is more complex than their little minds can deal with.  Sadly, life is even more complex than they can understand.  It still doesn’t mean it was designed.

There is nothing in the ID literature that says that the designer couldn’t be random mutation and natural selection.  Nothing… except the weak minds of people who can’t deal with reality.

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6 Responses to Complex Specified Information…

  1. Eugen says:

    Information is a difference that makes a difference
    Gregory Bateson

    Definition of information requires a paragraph but above quote is trying in one sentence. Interesting and witty.

    We all intuitively know information is not just counting of bits. Understanding of information transfer from sender to receiver will need more than describing flow of basic info carriers for ex. bits.

    Definition of complex and definition of specific are easier to understand. When these two get combined with “information” things get complicated. I didn’t read ID books dealing with CSI but from discussions online it seems CSI is supposed to represent “bluprintness” of something. Silly “blueprintness” could be replaced with another silly word “blueprint likeness”. Mentioning blueprint automatically assumes number of rules, symbols and abstract meanings.

    I hope assembling Millennium Falcon was easy and Santa was generous to all.

  2. OgreMkV says:

    Hey Eugen,

    Unfortunately, if you are not counting bits, then there really isn’t a good way to measure information. And I”ll repeat that there can be a huge difference between information and meaning (which is what most people, including IDists, think when they say information).

    Like the example, they say that a royal flush is exceedingly rare. It is, but so is 3c, 7d, Js, Jd, Qh… it’s just that the royal flush has a meaning for us and the other hand doesn’t. Does that mean that both a royal flush AND the other hand are designed?

    According to ID notions, that’s exactly what it means. Which makes ID utterly useless, because everything that happens is evidence of design. And when you think about that a second it makes it all the more likely that the designer is not ‘intelligent’, but is, instead, evolution.

    BTW: I ordered my dream PC (parts) last night. i7 quad 3.4Ghz on a Gigabyte Z68 mb, 8 gigs RAM, 64 Gig SSD, new mb, case, PSU, GPU and networking. Yay!

  3. Eugen says:

    Hi Ogre

    Oh, Santa was generous then. Looks like a great system. SSD will be good for the Windows but maybe low for data and applications. For that you probably have a hard drive.
    Not directly related to CSI.
    When I think of information i always consider “the whole shebang”:
    0. sender (automated or intelligent)
    1. transfer
    2. rules
    3. meaning
    4. action
    5. purpose
    6. receiver (automated or intelligent)
    I think if we take any 0 to 6 element out, information transfer will not be complete. Also, I think all the elements (0 to 6) are recognizable in the cell.

  4. OgreMkV says:

    List the cellular components and the processes that show 0-6 are in the cell. I might even agree with you.

    Yeah, the only thing carrying over from my current system is the (brand new) terabyte drive… which will be formatted (again). I checked, my entire Windows7 and both program files folders are less than 35 gigs.

  5. Eugen says:

    With SSD and 1TB hard drive you’ll have a Master-Blaster (Mad Max 3).

    Just a rough idea would be:

    0. sender nucleus/DNA
    1. transfer mRNA
    2. rules codons
    3. meaning codon to AA map
    4. action ribosome
    5. purpose protein production
    6. receiver cell target process

    Something like that.

  6. Tomato Addict says:

    Nice review and take-down. From the statistical side, CSI is a form of likelihood ratio test with a null hypothesis that Kari Byron (or something equally silly) will emerge from the vat.
    Those amazingly small probabilities (likelihoods) are meaningless, and you can get similar values for any sequence of events and a sufficiently large sample size. It is only when comparing these to the probability of a meaningful null hypothesis that you can make useful inference.
    What originally tipped me off that CSI was a crock of sh.t is that no real scientist would even consider the opposite of intelligence design; a single test that would prove all aspects of evolution. Science works in small steps, and if ID we’re a serious subject the work to support it would also be a series of small steps, not an all-at-once-and-we-are-done test such as CSI.

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