Thursday, March 24, 2011

A recent post at uncommon descent

MathGrrl says "Thank you in advance for helping me understand CSI. Let’s do some math!"

I confess to only skimming through this thread as it seems to be pretty much a rehash of the pro-ID, or we might say pro-mind, and the anti-ID, or we might say the naturalist/materialist/physicalist - NMPist - view which claims (apparently) that the source of biological information (complex, functional, specified, or whatever) is time plus natural selection, that is to say, the laws of physics. In other words, what is the CAUSE of information?

Most every biologist I've read, even on the pro-NDT side (Mayr, Crick, Dawkins, Coyne, etc...) has no problem with the idea that there is indeed such a thing as biological information. Dawkins actually says in "River Out of Eden" on page 19 that "Life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information." I quote him not to offer a "proof" of this but merely to point out that since the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and Watson the idea of biological information has taken on ever increasing importance in biology and is widely recognized to exist. Laying aside for the moment whether or not it can be measured to mf's or mg's satisfaction.

Just for fun, let's consider human information. The kind that is created by, well, humans. Like this post. What is the source of this information? Is it also the laws of physics as the NMPist would have us believe? Or is it mind, as I would have us believe?

If we consider the prerequisites for human information I think we can identify at least 4 or 5 depending on how you count language. Let's count the symbols and rules of language as 2. Those rules operate within the laws of reason so these rules (Being, Identity, Non-contradiction, Excluded Middle, Causality) are pre-req 3. How are the symbols arranged in order to encode a message? It seems as though they must be freely chosen. Otherwise, how to account for the fact that I am typing this instead of that? There is no POSSIBLE explanation grounded in physical law for why I am typing this instead of that which suggests the question, well then, if physics isn't doing it then what is? That's for another time. The last thing that is (at least) required is intentionality or purpose. A "scientist" might say "causality." What is it that causes these letters to appear "out here" in cyberspace? It seems that whatever it is that is freely arranging these English symbols in a (one hopes) logical fashion is also intending to do this. Otherwise, obviously, it wouldn't be done.

To recap, we need:
Symbols, rules, reason, free will, and purpose. Without these there is no human information.

So the NMPist now has to explain the existence of this information in terms of the laws of physics. If he wants to be intellectually honest, that is. After all, if NMPism means that all that exists is physical then obviously it follows that all explanations of these physical things MUST be found in the laws of physics. (Never mind for a moment the glaring - embarrassingly so - fact that these laws are also abstract and therefore beyond the reach of "science" because they cannot be sensed. I doubt that anyone has ever tasted or heard the law of gravity.)

Can the laws of physics explain any of the things on my list? No. It is not even conceptually possible since information (although encoded in a physical substrate) is not itself physical. And if it's not physical then physics can't explain it.

Let me try to illustrate with some examples.

Why does "the dog" refer to Fido and "der Hund" also refer to Fido? Can this possibly be explained by reference to the laws of physics? No. It cannot. Why does "Es regnet" mean "it's raining in German and means absolutely nothing in English? Can this be explained by reference to physical laws? No. It cannot.

If b < c, and a < b, then a < c. This is necessarily true. Not even God can make it not true. So explain that in terms of physical law. Cannot be done.

Free will cannot be explained by reference to physical law. Indeed the thorough going NMPist denies free will because everything must be explained by reference to physical LAW. We have the delicious irony of the fool denying that he has free will even as he exercises his free will to form the thought that he has none.

Intentionality cannot be explained by physics. Indeed, this is why Dawkins and the rest rail against the idea of there being real purpose or design or intentionality in the universe. Let me offer a quick modus tollens argument to show the idiocy of this line of thinking.

If I did not intend to be writing this post, I would not be writing this post. But I am writing this post. Therefore I do INTEND to be writing this post.

For me, it is not too great a step to get from human information to biological information. There HAS to be a code for information of any kind. The code is not based on any laws of physics that I've ever read about.

In fact, Yockey (2005), the physicist, says they are not. Oh heck, let me quote him. He says on page 5 that:

"The belief of mechanist-reductionists that the chemical processes in living matter do not differ in principle from those in dead matter is incorrect. There is no trace of messages determining the results of chemical reactions in inanimate matter. If genetical processes were just complicated biochemistry, the laws of mass action and thermodynamics would govern the placement of amino acids in the protein sequences." BUT THEY DON'T. OK, that last part was me, not Yockey, but that was his point.

In addition to the code there must be rules (else how did we recognize the existence of the CODE?). There must be free will (the code is not determined by the laws of physics - although - obviously - none of the chemical reactions violate the laws of physics). And purpose. Sigh. Why would there be anything at all unless someone (or SomeOne) determined that there would be? At any rate, I do not expect this will gain any traction in the anti-ID camp but every now and again one has to try.

If mg is still reading you might ask yourself what "doing math" actually means. At its essence it's manipulating symbols according to various and sundry laws. Mathematics is a language too. A universal language. So how is it that you can manipulate those symbols freely?



Eugen said...


your post on UD couldn't be more clear and deep to the core. One of my favorites on the thread.

Unfortunately, I was put in moderation on UD so I cannot participate. I argue for ID on other blogs/forums but not allowed on UD. Go figure.

Rich Hughes said...

It isn't MG who asserts it can be calculated as an emperical hurdle for design though, is it?

bluegenes said...

Hi Tom,
Did you exercise your free will in deciding that English would be your first language? And are your opinions completely independent of the culture that you grew up in?

Dave Mullenix said...

Tom, can you tell us what you mean when you say "laws of physics"?

Do you mean only the basic forces such as gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces and whatever force is speeding up the expansion of the universe?

Or do you also include things like how electrons, protons and other sub atomic particles act, the various ways atoms join together to make molecules, the way electromagnetic charges are distributed on molecules, the way molecules are arranged into stars, planets, rocks, water, etc?

The whole truth said...

Hey bible-boi, why don't you come to my blog and show me your evidence for god?

Maybe you can sharpen your thoughts and exercise your reason. LMAO!

Come on over! I'm sure I'll find it amusing.

The whole truth said...

You're as stupid as it gets. You think you know what naturalists all think and what the truth is about absolutely everything. You don't.

And I see that you're too much of a coward to come to my blog and engage me, or to publish my comments. What's the matter, tom-boi, don't you want some vicious amusement?

Whether you come to my blog or not, you can count on there being a lot about your arrogance and ignorance there. The other IDiots on UD and elsewhere are also getting a lot of exposure there. It's so much fun to show what morons you IDiots are.

By the way, I'd be posting on UD but you IDiots are too chicken-shit to allow real challenges to your delusional religious beliefs and agenda. I guess god didn't dish out balls to IDiots.

hawking_dawkins said...

You posit that human communication is impossible without ID.

Let's look at another example; animals. Many, if not all animals, communicate. Communication is a way of disseminating information. How do they communicate? Pheromones, displays, actions, sounds, etc. Does a bird chirping 'I'm ready to breed' need an ID backing? Or could we just say that its method of communication evolved from many sources of communication and just happens to be the one that natural selection chose?

When a cell divides, it makes a copy of its 'information', RNA. Are you saying that we can't explain cell division without ID?

Note, the cell still follows the rules of physics, yet the cell cannot comprehend those rules. Do we need ID for the laws of physics to exist? How about for logic?

You focus on human language and logic which obscures the point; humans are a special case in nature. Maybe you could argue for ID to create that special case, but let's think about a cell; it can perceive to some extent its environment, acts in accordance with its rules as programmed by its DNA (which does NOT equal predetermination, merely that in a given set of circumstances, it will generally behave a certain way).

Can you postulate your argument without using humans as an example?

Tom said...

Dave, I mean by the laws of physics, the whole enchilada to include all of the things you mention as well as thermodynamics. But I think, based on my limited understanding of physics, that the four forces plus the constants plus the initial conditions pretty much account for all of the other stuff. Thanks.

Tom said...

bluegenes, actually I learned English because my parents spoke it. No free will per se there. Of course my opinions are not completely independent of the culture I grew up in. I'm still unlearning a lot of what I used to believe was true. Thanks for the questions.

Tom said...

the whole truth... if you are still around come on back or tell me how to comment on your blog. be happy to do that.

Tom said...

Eugen, thanks. I don't spend any time posting at UD anymore (maybe I'll get back to it but I found the lack of rational opposition from the materialists/naturalists too off-putting - too much like "the whole truth" who prefers ad hominem attacks in lieu of argument) so I can't really comment on anything that's going on or not going on there. I hope you are out of moderation!! :-)

Tom said...

CBD, thanks. I tried to post your comments but I they disappeared. I think the short answer to natural selection, the idea that living things are fit to live and that only living things reproduce (two big no kiddings) is nonsense when it comes to explaining, well, anything. If natural selection were really a force in the purely material world they posit, then physicists would recognize it and talk about it. But they don't.