The Primacy of Pattern

The Primacy of Pattern April 7, 2015

“When we do science,” writes William Dembski in his Being As Communion (85), “we don’t encounter matter in its raw state nor do we encounter sensory experiences in their raw state. Rather, we encounter certain patterns to the exclusion of others. In other words, we encounter information. The material and sensory features associated with these patterns are secondary. Indeed, those very features are themselves patterned and thus informational. The patterns, or equivalently, the types of information conveyed, are primary.”

This implied that matter is “an abstraction from different types of material objects,” and in itself “leaves no characteristic pattern or signature.” Thus, from the perspective of information, “matter is . . . not real. To be sure, different types of matter are, or may be, real: massive particles such as protons and electrons, massless and almost massless particles such as photons and neutrinos, energetic fields, dark matter, dark energy, strings, superstrings, branes, etc. All of these can lay claim to being real. But to do so, each type of matter must display a characteristic signature in concrete circumstances (i.e., in relation to other things known to be real)” (88).

What we never actually get to, though, at any level is matter that lacks informational patterning: “Matter . . . when conceived as a non-informational substratum for information, seems entirely dispensable from science and even from metaphysics. Indeed, the evidence simply does not support that matter, as merely a passive receptacle for information, plays an indispensable role in our understanding of the world. Matter, to do useful scientific or metaphysical work, needs itself to be informational” (95). 

Dembski knows that “information always has a medium,” but he denies that “this medium need be physical or material, where physicality or materiality is taken in some inherently non-informational sense” (92).

Information, then, is more basic that matter in the world we live in. Some entities – God, angels – are patterned, communicative, and informational, but not material at all. The primacy is in the pattern.

Browse Our Archives