The Hard Problem

Evolution Made Us All from Ben Hillman on Vimeo.

Actually, the proposition here over-generalizes, but it is apparently true for biological life.

I don’t track the follies of Intelligent Design anywhere near as closely as I used to, yet I do maintain a tag search and every now and then I am moved to go check out the ‘action,’ always with the hope what I encounter will be amusing, and, rich as a qualitative data set about how people approach talking with each other.

Uncommon Descent, ‘serving the intelligent design community,’ is a dependable source of circularity and a time waster over many years. I got a nice positive at the end of March. I’ve let it, the comment thread, percolate since then. It is: worthy.

The set-up is a article, On the Computation of CSI, by Mathgrrl. Here is the equivalent of its abstract.

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.

Setting aside the effort to configure a worthwhile computational platform for ID, the post and its continuing offshoot oneand offshoot two, interest me because Mathgrrl, (who is seemingly Lauren Taalman of James Madison univesity,) has made her effort without also grinding any axe. My further interest, then, is to see what happens as a matter of the responses to her generous and sincere effort. How soon will bad will arise by design (!) to meet her good will?

The answer, of course, is: instantly. 11:17am. However, overall the discussion proceeds without much aggression. (It’s not besides the point that Dembski’s CSI has been discredited, but, in another sense the dialogs are seeking to discover a corrective or more correct estimate.) Alas, it turns out a moderator is riding the posts too, so some of the action only saw the light of day briefly.

As a Batesonian, I was amused to read this (#367):

I am saying, per my previous post, and interminable posts prior to this on other threads, that is it impossible, IN PRINCIPLE, i.e. it is logically impossible, to explain information in terms of algorithms and/or physical laws. This so obviously true that it is scarcely worth repeating. So I won’t. You will sooner be able to create a square circle as to generate information with time and physics. Information is impossible without reason, language, free will, and intentionality. That is, a mind. Or Mind in the case of life.

Having now created the square circle, what say you? Why would information require logic to be represented in any possible explanation of information, and this given too in any possible ‘terms?’ Oh look, my square circle just rolled up my stairs!

In the main the discussants don’t reconcile Mathgrrl’s urge to define CSI with greater specificity with the ID company line, that Dembski’s conclusions have already completed the endeavor. All in all, not very amusing, except for the usual category mashing, and this–as always–in the context of the unspoken problematic implied by some kind of computationally clever designer found somewhere beyond nature and biology. And, maybe this designer was/is, like, undesigned?

Then: pay dirt. Mathgrrl Lives Down to Expectations on April 14. The post’s subject remains calm. She should get a medal. Between this and the action over at the unintentionally very amusing comment spew at intelligentreasoning blog, I am suddenly delivered to the social psychological nirvana I was hunting for.

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