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Frank Turek’s Criminally Bad C.R.I.M.E.S. Argument: Information

Christian apologetics doesn't hold upThis is a continuation of a critique of Frank Turek’s arguments in favor of Christianity made at a recent debate. See the beginning of the discussion here.

The I in CRIMES is Information

Turek said, “Darwinists say we all evolved from a one-celled amoeba.” If by “Darwinists,” he means “biologists,” I’m pretty sure that biologists say that we share a common ancestor with an amoeba.

Turek likes to pick and choose his science. When it pleases him (the Big Bang, for example), he’ll point to the scientific consensus. When it doesn’t (evolution), he points elsewhere, hoping that you won’t notice the contradiction. Is science a reliable tool or not?

There is no scientific pushback against evolution, but not to worry. He has a scathing schoolyard taunt: that evolution means “from the goo to you via the zoo.” (Here, he relies on the well-known rule, “if it rhymes, it must be true.” Or something.) Somehow, “goo” is supposed to be derogatory. But, of course, Turek has no problem with making Man out of dirt, as God did in Gen. 2:7.)

The choice of the amoeba is the absolute worst category of animal Turek could’ve chosen to make his point. Protozoa, which includes amoebas, have DNA that ranges in size over five orders of magnitude—from 3 million to almost 1 trillion base pairs—broader than any other category of animal.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider this animal that Turek thinks shows the hand of an all-wise Designer. The animal with the longest DNA isn’t Homo sapiens. Salamander DNA can be 10 times longer, but it’s not salamanders, either. How about fish, with DNA up to 40 times longer? Wrong again. No, it’s the amoeba species Amoeba dubia, which has DNA 200 times longer than human DNA. Can this amoeba possibly need all that information, or is most of it (dare I say it?) junk?

DNA—no evidence for a Designer

The marvelous DNA that Creationists so often point to is a Rube Goldberg machine riddled with sloppiness. I discuss that more here. Here is a summary.

  • You know how humans get scurvy if we don’t get enough vitamin C? Almost all other mammals can synthesize their own vitamin C. We also have the gene that does that … except that it’s broken. Every cell of your body carries the DNA encoding of this broken, useless gene. That’s just one of 20,000 pseudogenes (broken genes) in human DNA.
  • You know how viruses can’t copy their own DNA but must force cells to do it for them? If the infected cell is a sperm or egg cell, that snippet of viral DNA gets passed on to children. It’s happened so often that 8% of our DNA is now inactivated viral DNA.
  • You know how the human appendix is vestigial (no longer used for its original purpose)? Other animals have vestigial structures, too—the pelvis in whales or eyes in blind cave fish. What’s really spooky are atavisms—archaic structures that get inadvertently switched on. Examples are humans with tails, dolphins with hind limbs, chickens with teeth, and snakes with legs.

Design Hypothesis

The Design Hypothesis argues that nature looks as if it were designed by an all-powerful Designer. How would we tell whether something is designed or not? We’d look for evidence of the principles followed by the designers that we know of, human designers. For example, designers might want to balance cost, strength, durability, beauty, and so on. But designers never put junk in their designs. The excess length of the protozoa DNA, pseudogenes, viral DNA, vestigial structures, and atavisms are traits that no designer would put in DNA. (I explore this more here.)

This doesn’t mean that God couldn’t do his work in ways that we don’t understand, but the Design Hypothesis is now defeated.

Messages and minds

Turek gives an example of information. Suppose you saw on the breakfast table Alpha Bits cereal spelling out “Take out the garbage, Mom.” Clearly this was intelligent design, he says, and I agree. We’ve seen people compose text just like this countless times.

“Messages come from minds,” Turek says. “Where I come from, codes always come from coders.”

Text made with cereal is just one of many similar examples. But where are the similar examples of people sending messages with coded chemicals? Where’s the proof that this can’t come from nature? Turek’s cereal example is irrelevant, and he has avoided the hard questions.

Turek wraps up: “To believe that [the amoeba’s DNA] resulted by natural forces is like believing that the Library of Congress resulted from an explosion in a printing shop. I don’t have enough faith to believe that.” Snap! Respond to that, atheists!

But anyone who’s studied evolution knows that it proceeds by mutation (which is random) and natural selection (which is not). An explosion in a printing shop is just random, and Turek’s analogy fails completely.

I want to interpret Turek’s points charitably, but I can’t believe that he hasn’t been corrected on this point already, probably many times. I’m guessing he deliberately prefers the useful to the accurate. Accurately characterizing evolution doesn’t suit his purpose, so he mischaracterizes it. It’d be refreshing if he would take his medicine and drop flawed arguments.

Continue with part 5.

What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure
that we can comprehend only very imperfectly,
and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of “humility.”
This is a genuinely religious feeling
that has nothing to do with mysticism.
— Albert Einstein

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    “To be a Christian, you must pluck out the eye of reason.”
    —Martin Luther, original Protestant

    • WalterP

      “Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind
      realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science
      are written the words: Ye must have faith.”–Max Planck, original Quantum Physicist

      • RichardSRussell

        And Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951, Austrian philosopher) agreed: “At the core of all well-founded belief lies belief that is unfounded.”

        But here is the primary difference between physicists like Planck and philosophers like Wittgenstein on the one hand, and religious believers on the other: If the underlying axiom produces absurd results, they abandon it; they don’t build towering edifices atop a rotten foundation.

        • WalterP

          If the underlying axiom produces absurd results, they abandon it; they don’t build towering edifices atop a rotten foundation.

          You should look up quantum mechanics sometime…

        • Greg G.

          Even if quantum mechanics seems absurd to you, it does not mean quantum mechanics are absurd. It makes accurate and precise predictions

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          In that case, we have had to come to accept that absurd does not mean necessarily not true.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m frequently amazed that smart philosophers or apologists will give some sort of common sense statement like “something can’t come from nothing” or “every event must have a cause” that works in our familiar Newtonian world.

          The quantum world is quite different, but they blunder forward with the same platitudes, convinced that their common sense must reign everywhere.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          Yes, I have run into plenty of that. See here.

        • RichardSRussell

          Well, the thing about quantum mechanics is that, no matter how absurd the underlying foundation may seem, it produces exquisitely reliable results, the most accurate predictions in science. The proof is in the pudding.

          And that’s my point: Do the results work? Are they reliable? Can you measure them and count on them? If so, you’re dealing with science, not faith. It’s the very essence of faith that you haul it out only when there’s no way of actually checking up on its predictions, so you can get away with any bullshit you want, because who can ever say otherwise?

        • WalterP

          I think the larger question (that atheists choose to ignore) is why Planck, Wittgenstein, Galileo, Newton, the inventer of the big bang, and so on all did not abandon their “absurd” and unreliable faith. You claimed scientists abandon “absurd axioms” like faith claims. None of these people did.

        • RichardSRussell

          It only seems that we ignore this irrelevancy because it generally only comes up when people like you, at the end of an argument on a different subject, try to bring it up in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to change the subject from an area where you’re losing badly.

          Argument from authority is a favorite of theists, no doubt, but it’s no substitute for cogent, consistent reasoning that can stand on its own without a famous name attached to it, and that’s what you lack here.

        • WalterP

          I like the lecture, but you’re the one who made an empirically false claim:

          But here is the primary difference between physicists like Planck and philosophers like Wittgenstein on the one hand, and religious believers on the other: If the underlying axiom produces absurd results, they abandon it…

          No one is making an argument from authority, unless you are. I’m just providing you with a free history lesson, since you were mistaken. Now you know.

        • smrnda

          Wittgenstein engaged in absurd behavior his entire life. I’ve often found that kind of amusing.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          Their faiths themselves being un-abandoned could simply be chalked up the fact that at that time only a few new profound discoveries had been made which challenged the stranglehold that religion had on explaining the known universe. If they had the information we have today, it is reasonable to assume that they would have changed their views (especially if they didn’t face the threat of death like Galileo or being labeled a heretic like Newton)

          An additional issue that “religious people often ignore” is that the foundations scientists laid down, regardless of the theory proposed, could be tested and adjusted based on new information. This ensured that scientific discovery could continue while religious discovery remains locked into a static text which cannot be changed. I’ll for the sake of argument grant you that all theories and ideas are based on assumptions and if you’d like to call that faith, then so be it but I would argue that trying to conflate the two things by pointing to a random quote from one physicist and assuming that “faith” in science is the same as “faith” in religion is completely unjustified.

          It stands to reason that “faith” as put in scientific terms can be tested. “Faith” as major religions claim, is by definition untestable because if you “have it” you aren’t supposed to change it when challenged. Rather a true “sign of religious faith” is that you believe the same things in spite of challenging evidence regardless of how much is presented or how truthful it is.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If they had the information we have today,
          it is reasonable to assume that they would have changed their views

          Especially when you see that religious belief is inversely
          proportional to understanding of science.

        • WalterP

          Yet education is correlated with religious attendance and half of scientists are theists. So half of scientists today have “the information we have today” and don’t comply with your ridiculous conjecture.

          But don’t let facts stand in the way of your revisionist history..

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          Referring to your comment above and this one… I’m not ignoring the fact that they were Christian, or that they may have remained Christian, I have amended the above to change the assertion that “they would” to “they could”, as you are correct that that was a baseless assumption. But…

          My point was that, religion at the time was the “best” explanation and the most prevalent explanation for the universe at the time. Almost ALL Scientists were Religious, but we find a general trend away from religion among scientists, especially in fields that deal with origins and explaining the development of our universe. Back then, there was no explanation for these things other than “God Did it”. The Big Bang, Evolution, modern physics, neurology, etc. were in their infancy.

          I’m not sure what you mean by revisionist history… Some have pointed out the possibility that some of these Scientists could have been atheists but were otherwise bound by statements of faith, to not say so publically for fear of losing their position.

          And your point about doing scriptural interpretation at gunpoint? Its not the scriptural interpretation that was subject to threats, though Newton I’m sure could very well have been labeled a heretic. Galileo WAS threatened for his discovery. Even if he wanted to change his views, or did, he wouldn’t have been able to go fully public with them because of the assumptions and assertions of absolute knowledge coming from the Church at the time.

        • WalterP

          If they had the information we have today, it is reasonable to assume
          that they would have changed their views (especially if they didn’t face
          the threat of death like Galileo or being labeled a heretic like
          Newton)

          Yes, they wrote their major works on scriptural interpretation at gunpoint.

          Atheists and history….I love it.

        • MNb

          Of course you being you you prefer to understand this poorly phrased statement in the most uncharitable way you can find.
          Scientists aren’t doing science 24/7 and being human are capable of all kind of silly conclusions. There is a Nobel price winner denying the HIV-virus.

        • smrnda

          If they did not, it’s just another sign that people are often irrational and inconsistent. It’s kind of like wondering why a cardiologist would smoke and eat burgers, or why a janitor would live in a dirty house.

          I don’t take everything a scientist says seriously, only the things that got properly peer-reviewed and such. It’s not like if a scientist of some kind tells me ‘you should really eat at Bob’s’ that I will decide I should eat at Bob’s.

        • WalterP

          Then you’re on my side that this was a factually and historically inaccurate statement concerning those practicing science.

          If the underlying axiom produces absurd results, they abandon it…

          Or not.

        • Greg G.

          Galileo got in trouble with the church. He was in no position to openly abandon his apparent faith. Newton didn’t abandon alchemy, either. LeMaitre would have had a lot to lose, too, but he did persuade the Pope to shut up about cosmology and creationism.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Newton’s position at Cambridge required a statement of faith (I forget which flavor of Christianity).

        • Greg G.

          After Principia , Newton did some Bible study and noticed a couple of interpolations which were added to support the Trinity which Newton opposed. He wrote this to John Locke but it wasn’t published until 50 years after he died. Denying the Trinity was against the law, a hanging offense in some places.

          The verses were 1 John 5:7 and 1Timothy 3:16 .

        • WalterP

          I love this “all scientists were closet atheists” theory. Never gets old. I think I love it because it shows so clearly how little your beliefs are even interested in having empirical verification.

        • Greg G.

          BTW, Planck was a deist and specifically rejected Christianity or any personal god.

        • Brian Westley

          why Planck, Wittgenstein, Galileo, Newton, the inventer of the big bang, and so on all did not abandon their “absurd” and unreliable faith.

          You mean their mutually contradictory faiths. They certainly didn’t all follow the same theology; Newton was a closet Arian (since denying the trinity could’ve gotten him in trouble), Galileo was Catholic, Planck stated that he believed in a god but not a personal god or a Christian god, and Wittgenstein was even less tied to a specific religion.

        • WalterP

          Oh wow, it’s almost like not all faith is the same and can’t be reduced to the concept of “axioms that produce absurd results.”

          So Russell was wrong in two ways, not just the way I pointed out, thanks.

        • Brian Westley

          Oh wow, it’s almost like not all faith is the same and can’t be reduced to the concept of “axioms that produce absurd results.”

          I don’t know of any faith that produces anything like reliable results. Not all medical quackery is the same, either.

        • Leo Buzalsky

          No, atheists don’t ignore that question. We just find that there are a number of probable answers that aren’t “their believe in god must then be founded” (or something along that line). One probable answer is that they didn’t apply scientific methodology to their god beliefs. (In other words, they weren’t scientists in that category.)

        • MNb

          When it comes to religion Newton was nuts. The inventor of the big bang (the name was coined by Fred Hoyle btw) was Alexander Friedmann, a Soviet-commie. Galileo hadn’t much choice as he 1. remembered the fate of Giordano Bruno, 2. the physics he developed had nothing to do with religion and 3. there weren’t any atheists around anyway.
          As for Planck – during his career as a physicist religion was not very important to him.
          Anyhow, these days the vast majority of physicists is atheist; more than 80%. So your point – if there is any, which is always unclear in your case – falls flat on its face anyhow.

      • MNb

        Since Planck wrote this down he didn’t contribute anything anymore to physics. Just coincidence, you guess?

        • Greg G.

          To be fair, Luther never did contribute anything good to religion, either.

  • MNb

    Have you ever met the Family Lion? Turek’s Designer has arranged things in such a way that this family happily nibbles at the belly of the antelope they just have caught with the animal staying alive in agony for several minutes. There is also a worm which can only survive by literally drilling it’s way through the eye of its host.
    Design also has a teleological argument. I’d like to know which goal Turek’s god had in mind when making this design.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      The cruelty in nature is something that Darwin noted as well.

      Have you heard William Lane Craig tap dance his way through the problem you raise? He says that there are categories of pain, and only humans have an appreciation for the highest level. (And then there’s his ridiculous apologetic that tries to get God off the hook for the Canaanite genocide, but that’s further afield.)

      • wombat

        If William Lane Craig has a justification for it, there’s a good chance that it’s actually unjustifiable.

      • MNb

        Well, one could ask what purpose Craig’s god had in mind when creating homo sapiens with genocidal tendencies. My point is to show that the various god-arguments are connected and not independent, as that same WLC usually claims.
        Another point is that those who use the design argument always pick the cherries.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          What–you mean that smallpox and tsunamis are less likely to be picked as evidence than puppies and sunsets?

          Weird.

  • Greg G.

    If man comes from dirt, why is there still dirt? What good is half a dirt?

  • smrnda

    I think I’d go with the Blind Watchmaker on this – life seems most likely the product of random chance and not conscious design. Doesn’t disprove a god, but it does make it hard to argue for a god who actively created life, unless you get weird handwaving that all deterioration can be accounted for by some fall (where the lack of evidence for the myth of god’s design gets explained by another myth from the same book) or that there’s some higher reason.

    • MNb

      No, but keep in mind that debunking apologist arguments is one thing and proving that god doesn’t exist another.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Doesn’t one give us the other? If we agree that we can’t prove anything and are only looking for the best evidenced conclusion, debunking apologists’ arguments leads us to conclude that “God doesn’t exist” is our best hypothesis.

  • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

    Quick potential correction, Its possible that the appendix actually does serve a purpose, as it has been noted that certain antibacterial functions may arise from the appendix as well as some potential functions in utero. Not to say it still couldn’t be vestigial, but you know those Creationists, once they find a “flaw” or even a potential flaw, they point it out and claim that the rest of your claims are false. Our wisdom teeth are a bit better as far as an example goes :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yes, the appendix does seem to serve a purpose. But keep in mind that vestigial doesn’t mean “useless” (as Creationists so often want to pretend) but “not used for what it was originally used for.”

      An ostrich can’t fly, so it’s wings are vestigial. But they’re certainly useful (they help steer when the ostrich is running quickly). The human coccyx has muscles or tendons attached to it. The eyes in blind cave fish perhaps are totally useless–I dunno.

      • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

        I don’t think creationists argue that all vestigial organs “useless” rather I think that they define them explicitly as functional and that is where I think their flaw in thinking lies. I believe they more often simply aren’t willing to grant the possibility for original use so they come up with arguments showing that the organ is not only functional but necessary, as well as of course present that that indicates design.

        I’ve even heard Ken Ham argue that the muscles surrounding the coccyx can be used for certain sex positions. I guess my statement was to say that, presenting the most useless of organs and functions when refuting creationists, while ignoring ones which they love to point out as having a function and thus “design” may do us well in the long run as they will take any out available. I myself wasn’t convinced to actually read up on and study evolution until I heard arguments that pointed out things like wisdom teeth and (as you already noted) the vitamin C deficiency problem.

        I often heard in my earlier years of indoctrination that atheists or evolutionists always point to the appendix or coccyx as evidence of evolution (and although true) the second we point those out, often creationists are prepared with an answer for those cases, which tries the patience when trying to now provide other examples or show why the coccyx is still evidence. It may still be a lost cause, but I think being ready to counter the vast sum of poor arguments often purported by creationists still holds value.
        Great blog by the way, I’ve been following for about 6 months now after I de-converted and have generally enjoyed the well thought out and accurate arguments against common Christian assumptions, especially ones regarding interpretations of prophecy. :)

        Note: That I incorrectly used the term vestigial may point to the fact that my education in biology is self taught and recent. So my apologies for any miss-steps (Curse the sheltered education of Creationism!)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Agreed: Creationists are quick to argue that vestigial organs aren’t useless. And no one says that they are. You may be right that giving useful vestigial organs as examples (instead of useless ones, perhaps like the pelvis in whales or eyes in blind cave fish) gives them a tiny bit of flotsam to cling to and confuses the issue.

          Congratulations on the worldview switch. And thanks for the compliment on the blog. Feel free to recommend topics that you don’t find addressed in the archives.

          I’ve done 3 posts on (non-)prophecies and still have Daniel to do. Let me know if there are other biggies for you.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          I don’t know if you’ve done a post addressing the basic framework that you use to analyze the text but it might help to outline your logic. If I may propose, I was thinking that it would be useful to break the types of Biblical prophecies into multiple camps e.g. (Fulfilled, yet to be fulfilled, or un-fulfilled) as claimed by the faithful and then a set of criteria to determine first, if the alleged prophecy IS a prophecy, then what level of predictive power it has, e.g. how testable is it (e.g. virgin birth) based on the context of fulfillment.

          As for biggies, or at least common prophecies, I hear a lot of references to the creation story and the whole “snake bites heel, woman stomps head” that’s supposed to refer to Jesus. Jeremiah makes a lot of predictions and so does Isaiah, but one key thing about most of those, I would argue, is that could anyone have made the predictions they made based on contextual evidence (e.g. rumors of war)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          a set of criteria to determine first, if the alleged prophecy IS a prophecy

          The actual prophecies that I’ve come across have all been short term (the boy named Emmanuel, for example). I’ve never seen one that could plausibly be said was ever intended to point to the time of Jesus. But I could be overlooking something.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          Searching around I found your criteria under “What makes a Good Prophecy” so never mind on the first paragraph. I completely agree with you. With any rational set of prophetic criteria, there is no way that any of the alleged fulfilled prophecies point to Jesus in any meaningful way.

      • Greg G.

        We had a discussion over at talk.origins years ago about vampire bat molars. Two species had molars without enough enamel to be useful as teeth and one species lacked them. It was amusing how the creationists insisted that those molars had some use or they wouldn’t be there.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Things are so easy if you assume your conclusion from the beginning.

          I wonder how they handwave away the pelvis in whales or nonfunctional eyes in cave fish.

  • Greg G.

    Bob, you owe Moe, Larry, and Curly an apology for besmirching their intelligence for comparing them with creationists. Moe would slap you and pull a handful of hair out.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Nyuk nyuk nyuk!

  • Leo Buzalsky

    When it doesn’t (evolution), he points elsewhere, hoping that you won’t notice the contradiction. Is science a reliable tool or not?

    Oh, well, see, he’s one of those apologists that broaden the definition of “science” to fit his needs. To him, searching for the origin of Mount Rushmore is “science.” (The architecture itself, and not the origin of the geological formation.) I kid you not; it is in Chapter 6 of his book (co authored with Norman Geisler(spelling?), “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.” He can then ignore the actual scientific consensus because, by golly, there are all these credible intelligent design scientists (they’re scientists because they’re searching for the origin of life similar to those scientists searching for the origin of Mount Rushmore…or something) out there that disagree!

    But where are the similar examples of people sending messages with coded chemicals? Where’s the proof that this can’t come from nature?

    There’s also an inconsistency here. If DNA is a message, who is the receiver of this message? This is unsurprisingly not addressed (this same argument appears in Chapter 5 of mentioned book), but it seems to me that the receiver would have to be chemicals. So we seemingly are supposed to believe that chemicals are incapable of “writing” messages yet have the ability to “read” them.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I hadn’t thought about chemicals being the addressee (but, of course, not the author!) of messages. Interesting.

  • Mick

    Creationists love the Theory of Evolution. As long as they can keep people talking about that subject they are saved the bother of proving that their god exists.

  • Carol

    The existence of God can never be proven or disproven on the basis of empirical evidence. An unwillingness to accept this reality is evidence of an egoic need to “be right” which is “proof” of spiritual immaturity.

    “Revelation can be either doubted or affirmed but neither denied or proved.”
    – Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1907-1972

    Revelation can never find a place in reason, but reason finds a place in revelation.
    –Emil Brunner

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      True but irrelevant. All we can hope for is to accurately weigh the evidence and follow it honesty.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      Unfortunately, revelation can also be indistinguishable form psychotic episode.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    People often confuse the definition of “information” as used in communication with the definition used in physics which relates to the state configuration of a system. DNA information is more of the latter than the former.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      An interesting distinction. I’ll look into that.

      Where I am sometimes challenged is that DNA is information; information comes from intelligence; therefore, DNA must come from intelligence.

      The quick rebuttal is to point to genetic algorithms that are randomly generated. But it’d be interesting to find another example of natural information (if that’s the right term). For example, you could look at a crystal. It’s obviously generated from nature, but its shape could be considered as information. Crystal A has a different shape than crystal B; to reproduce crystal A would take different information than for B, etc. But in this case, there is no equivalent of a reader.

      Even ignoring genetic algorithms, my response is: DNA is information generated and read naturally. And we only have one instance. How about that?

      Hardly a proof of God.

      • Greg G.

        When astronomers look at the light from a star, they can look at the absorption lines at various frequencies to determine the elements in it. With the light from a distant galaxy, the absorption line distortions can show the red shift and know the speed the galaxy relative to us. If the light passed through a gas cloud, the spectra tells the elements and compounds present and the speed relative to us. That information is in the light and it doesn’t require an intelligence to encode it, only an intelligence to decode it.

        But then, anything we look at is light reflected from or emitted by objects without intelligence but we can infer size, composition, distance, and movement information. Dogs get a lot of information from the molecules emitted from things. Moths get information about the location of potential mates from molecules and wind direction which don’t require intelligence.

        We acquire unintelligently produced information constantly and so do insects and plants.

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        Everything has state information in the physics definition. It is what has driven Leonard Susskind to his holographic speculation. However it is not intuitive. The physical information content of a beautiful and intricate snow flake is less than a splatter of mud the same side. That is because regularities in the snow flake allow you to write a complete description of state that is shorter than the splatter where you pretty much have to specify every atom individually.

        DNA has compact physical information where we don’t need to specify every atom, just the base sequence. We ask about the odds that all those bases could be in that order by chance, but that is still far greater than the chance all the atoms would be in those exact positions in the mud splatter.

        As you shift context to cell operation, you shift to anthropomorphising human communication because you can start using some of same information theory tools. However, there is no sender and receiver, although the cell seems to act like that as genetic information is passed to the next generation.

        Cells do pass “messages” in the form of chemical signals to each other, but there is no “intelligence” behind the messages in the way we use intelligence to communicate. Ultimately, you are correct that all information of the communication or encoding type can be traced back to genetic algorithms. I suspect that our very abilities to think come from patterns of neural activity fighting to survive (maintain pattern integrity) against other patterns of activity in a pseudo-Darwinian struggle for neural resources. But, that part is just my speculation.

        I will try to remember to write a blog piece about what counts as which kind of information in which kind of context. Gregory Bateson used to say that information was the difference that makes a difference and that context was the difference that makes information make a difference.

    • Compuholic

      In certain contexts I’m sure that you can look at DNA within the framework of information theory.

      For example I could write an evolutionary algorithm that guesses a password by checking how many letters I have correctly guessed to determine the “fitness” of a solution and “breed” from there. In such a context the entropy of the solutions will decrease (provided that the password I chose to be guessed is sufficiently long and not composed of random letters).

      I am fairly sure that something very similar could be done for DNA since you can represent it as a series of letters as well. Of course the exact definition of information content would depend on what property you are looking at.

      But you are right: To look at the entropy of the DNA molecule alone makes very little sense.


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