It’s been a while since I’ve posted since I’ve been busy with preparations for the ASA meeting at Gordon College. One of the sessions included three presentations responding to this Theistic Evolution book. Denis Lamoureux gave a presentation addressing the theological critique, my talk covered the scientific critique, and Jim Stump addressed the philosophical critique. The links in that sentence take you to the multi-media recordings of those talks. In this post, I would like to briefly summarize the talk that I gave. A copy of my slides is attached.
As I have indicated in a previous post of this series, the primary, pervasive scientific critique of theistic evolution in this book is the dominant argument for ID from information. It says that evolution cannot be the cause of the generation of new information like that in the genetic code and that it has been shown that an intelligent mind can and must generate such information. The basis for this statement is the assertion frequently made in lectures, videos and books by Steve Meyer and other advocates of Intelligent Design that “all our experience shows that information can only be generated by an intelligent mind.” Applying this principle to biological systems means that the genetic code could only have been generated by an intelligent mind. Hence, evolution is not valid and ID is.
Let’s take a closer look at that assertion. First of all, it is an inductive argument which means that it could be falsified by any counterexample. Inductive arguments also need some rationale for extending the inference beyond the scope of the known examples. Secondly, it is important to understand the definition of the term “information” as used in this sentence. It is not the same as the term “information” used by scientists in information theory. It is not the same as “Shannon information” used by communications engineers. Rather it is known as “functional information” also referred to as “complex specified information” or “algorithmic specified complexity.” This specific type of information is meaningful information referring only to information that has the appropriate meaning.
As an example of functional information, consider the sentence in the assertion itself. It is composed of 63 letters and 13 spaces and a period. As printed above, this sentence has relevant meaning and is therefore functional. If these letters and spaces are randomly scrambled, the result would be gibberish and the information is no longer functional. What is the probability that continued attempts at random scrambling would eventually lead to a meaningful sentence, and this assertion in particular? Zero, or so close that it is essentially zero. In scientific terms, there is still information in the gibberish, it just doesn’t have meaning. In functional information, there is no information in gibberish, only in the desired sentence or any sequence that bears the same meaning. Only an intelligent mind with a knowledge of English could construct such a sequence in a practical timeframe.
Meyer then cites numerous examples from language, phone numbers, software, engineering designs, etc. to show that each of these requires an intelligent mind to achieve functional information. He then asserts through inductive logic that this requirement of an intelligent mind is a requisite for all types of functional information. Since the genetic code is clearly an example of functional information in a genome, then he says an intelligent mind must have been involved in establishing that code. However, he does not articulate the basis for a connection between intelligence and functional information.
My observation is that in the biological realm, there are ubiquitous examples of the generation of new functional information without the involvement of an intelligent mind. Every act of reproduction involves the rearrangement or modification, whether through sexual crossover or mutations, of the genetic base pairs in the genome. In all cases, this amounts to new functional information whether infinitesimally new or significantly different. The only intelligence that might be observed is that from mate selection in higher organisms but no direct modification, notwithstanding the current promise of such gene-editing ability in the future. Specific examples of new information in biology are provided in the informative series of 14 blog-posts by Dennis Venema. Every event of reproduction therefore seems to be a counterexample that falsifies the inductive logic of the assertion that all functional information requires an intelligent mind.
My proposal is that functional information is connected to intelligence through abstract relationships in the determination of functionality. One of the most important defining hallmarks of intelligence is the ability for abstract reasoning. Therefore, whenever the criterion for functionality involves an abstract relationship, intelligence is necessarily involved. This applies to all of the experiences to which Meyer and other advocates appeal. However, biological systems do not require any abstract relationship for determining what information is functional. The criterion for functionality of any organism is to survive and be successful in reproduction. This is an existential criterion and no abstract relationship is involved. It cannot therefore be inferred that intelligence is required for biological functional information.
To repeat this conclusion in different terms, it is the determination of functionality that indicates whether or not intelligence is required. If information is determined to be functional or not through an abstract relationship, then intelligence is required. If no abstract connection is needed to determine functionality, then it cannot be asserted that an intelligent mind must have been involved, though it might have been.
My conclusion is that the fundamental principle of the Intelligent Design paradigm is unpersuasive. No compelling evidence has been brought forward that nature cannot generate new functional information like the genetic code nor that intelligent minds were required to do so. The ID philosophy has not been shown to be a viable scientific perspective to be considered alongside the theory of evolution.