In the abstract of Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence, William Demski asks “Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?” Many ID proponents answer this question emphatically in the affirmative, claiming that Complex Specified Information is a metric that clearly indicates intelligent agency.
As someone with a strong interest in computational biology, evolutionary algorithms, and genetic programming, this strikes me as the most readily testable claim made by ID proponents. For some time I’ve been trying to learn enough about CSI to be able to measure it objectively and to determine whether or not known evolutionary mechanisms are capable of generating it. Unfortunately, what I’ve found is quite a bit of confusion about the details of CSI, even among its strongest advocates.
My first detailed discussion was with UD regular gpuccio, in a series of four threads hosted by Mark Frank. While we didn’t come to any resolution, we did cover a number of details that might be of interest to others following the topic.
CSI came up again in a recent thread here on UD. I asked the participants there to assist me in better understanding CSI by providing a rigorous mathematical definition and showing how to calculate it for four scenarios:
1. A simple gene duplication, without subsequent modification, that increases production of a particular protein from less than X to greater than X. The specification of this scenario is “Produces at least X amount of protein Y.”
2. Tom Schneider’s ev evolves genomes using only simplified forms of known, observed evolutionary mechanisms, that meet the specification of “A nucleotide that binds to exactly N sites within the genome.” The length of the genome required to meet this specification can be quite long, depending on the value of N. (ev is particularly interesting because it is based directly on Schneider’s PhD work with real biological organisms.)
3. Tom Ray’s Tierra routinely results in digital organisms with a number of specifications. One I find interesting is “Acts as a parasite on other digital organisms in the simulation.” The length of the shortest parasite is at least 22 bytes, but takes thousands of generations to evolve.
4. The various Steiner Problem solutions from a programming challenge a few years ago have genomes that can easily be hundreds of bits. The specification for these genomes is “Computes a close approximation to the shortest connected path between a set of points.”
vjtorley very kindly and forthrightly addressed the first scenario in detail. His conclusion is:I therefore conclude that CSI is not a useful way to compare the complexity of a genome containing a duplicated gene to the original genome, because the extra bases are added in a single copying event, which is governed by a process (duplication) which takes place in an orderly fashion, when it occurs.
In that same thread, at least one other ID proponent agrees that known evolutionary mechanisms can generate CSI. At least two others disagree.
I hope we can resolve the issues in this thread. My goal is still to understand CSI in sufficient detail to be able to objectively measure it in both biological systems and digital models of those systems. To that end, I hope some ID proponents will be willing to answer some questions and provide some information:
1. Do you agree with vjtorley’s calculation of CSI?
2. Do you agree with his conclusion that CSI can be generated by known evolutionary mechanisms (gene duplication, in this case)?
3. If you disagree with either, please show an equally detailed calculation so that I can understand how you compute CSI in that scenario.
4. If your definition of CSI is different from that used by vjtorley, please provide a mathematically rigorous definition of your version of CSI.
5. In addition to the gene duplication example, please show how to calculate CSI using your definition for the other three scenarios I’ve described.
Discussion of the general topic of CSI is, of course, interesting, but calculations at least as detailed as those provided by vjtorley are essential to eliminating ambiguity. Please show your work supporting any claims.
Thank you in advance for helping me understand CSI. Let’s do some math!
So far, the post has generated over 300 replies, yet no one has yet been able to provide the metric by which CSI is calculated. Of course, that doesn't stop the creationists from continuing to insist it's a really really scientificy mathematical tool that can prove evolution is just a bunch of phoney baloney hooey. It's just that no one knows how to actually measure it.
This post by JonSpector, who I gather is a mean old atheist evolutionist, in response to one of Dembski's groupies named PaV seems to give the gist of the discussion:
So, MathGrrl’s question is not a question. It’s a demand for a demonstration, and nothing less.
So? Asking an ID scientist to demonstrate what he claims is one of the key tools in his toolbox hardly seems like some nefarious plot. The few actual scientists I know are positively giddy when asked to talk about their work. I can’t shut them up, even after the food arrives.
As I demonstrated above, she has not understood what a specification
Yes, and by my reading, she agrees with you on that point and has asked for help clearing it up.
The only person in the ID world providing mathematical definitions of CSI is Bill Dembski. She should have known this from the beginning.
It might have saved everyone alot of time and frustration if they had just said 700 comments (over two threads) ago that they can’t define CSI in an unambiguous manner.
She didn’t want us to give a “rigorous mathematical definition” of CSI, she wanted us to tear apart the programs and assess it using the notions of CSI. Why should I be expected to respond to such a request on my time and energy. Am I some kind of paid consultant?
I, for one, was under the impression that you were an ID scientist. And, as I am led to understand, spending inordinate amounts of time developing ideas and sharing them widely is the process of science and the work of scientists.
We can calculate it. But it is a very labor and time intensive operation. Why are we supposed to make this calculation?
Because, as I have been told, that is what scientists do if they want the broader world take notice of their work.
Why isn’t she expected to show that she understands CSI and demonstrate that understanding by, herself, anaylzing these programs. If she came up with something disproving CSI, THEN, and ONLY THEN would it be incumbent upon the ID community to rebut her findings.
How can she disprove what hasn’t been shown to be proven? CSI is an interesting concept. But, until someone actually shows it in action (it is easy, after all, right? You said so yourself), it seems like demands for disproof are premature.
Your demands for disproof of what you aren’t yet willing to demonstrate looks kinda like this: I claim that I am the most interesting man in the world. Now you must disprove that. And it is insufficient for you to say that I am nothing more than an internet blog troll, because someone else likely disagrees with you. You must demonstrate it with such rigor that everyone agrees that I am not very interesting.
Even Bill Dembski can’t “agree” on a definition of CSI. He no longer is using it, in a sense. He now is using “specified complexity”. Others here at UD want to stick directly in the “information” area and have our own intuitive ideas of what CSI should look like, and what we should be looking for in biological systems. Is there something wrong with this?
Well, it renders your demand that Mathgrrl begone and not come back until she understands CSI a little confusing. How is she supposed to demonstrate an understanding of a central ID concept which actual ID scientists can’t agree on?
It might save you more time if you shortened your request that she go away until she understands CSI to a request that she just go away.
The whole thing can be found here. I hope someone who has the know-how can save the screen. These kind of things have a funny habit of disappearing on ID websites.