So we’ve recently had several exchanges on this forum about arguments for ID that rely on information theory (IT). I tried my best to follow along. I am someone who’s a physicist and took a few classes on statistical mechanics, but am far from being an expert in that area as my research uses little of it. I am also completely untrained in IT, although as Josh points out it is not very different from statistical mechanics.
To put it bluntly, I was very confused by the seeming contradictions and errors that came out of this exchange. I initially chalked this up to my lack of full understanding of the subtleties of IT (as I never took a formal class in it). But when it seems that even simple statements are contradictory, I’m starting to suspect that there really isn’t a clear, coherent argumentation strategy in ID using IT. This long post will attempt to highlight important points of the exchange so far, and points where I am utterly confused.
The original ID argument and its pitfalls
According to Josh, the original ID argument developed by Dembski, Marks and co. has the following assumption:
The standard response to this is that this random starting point is not true of nature:
This is also the main thrust of Josh’s argument in, for example, Computing the Functional Information in Cancer and Explaining the Cancer Information Calculation. Common descent, which is really just a fancy way to say “DNA replication”, is capable of producing mutual information (MI) - something that is glaringly obvious. Thus no intelligence is required to explain functional information (FI), which as argued in the above threads is just a subset of MI.
However, the ID side then replied that the cancer information calculation explains nothing, because it presumes pre-existing MI. A major plank of ID is that MI can only be produced by intelligence. After MI exists, then its evolution is governed by the Law of Information Non-Growth (LoING).
To the non-ID side, this implied that DNA replication requires an intelligence - a seemingly ridiculous claim, as DNA replication is a natural process as simple and commonplace as gravity.
A Concession from ID?
Some people including myself then focused on this claim, which seemed obviously wrong. It then led to some sort of concession from the ID side, that it is possible to get MI without intelligence:
Notice that this concession seems to directly refute the original argumentative logic of ID: even if we assume a “completely random” starting point (which as Josh argues, is a wrong assumption), it is conceded that no intelligence is required to produce MI!
But besides this, we also had these clarifications to the concession, which confused me:
(Edited after some more thought.)
The first confusing point to me, was that replies 2 and 3 seems to imply that completely random variables equals non-independent. I thought completely random variables equals independent. (As an example, if you flip two fair, completely random coins several times, their results will be independent of each other.) It almost seems like a straight off typo, as it contradicts Reply 1, which seems to imply independence = randomness because of the assumptions of the ID concession which assumes randomness in nature.
Another Contradiction: Does ID think DNA is independent, or not?
Even with the seeming contradictions, I was optimistic, as the concession hinted that we had achieved progress in the discussion. Somewhat in line with the concession, the ID side then tried to argue that prima facie, things in nature like DNA are independent:
Josh and many others disagreed: we can’t rule out that hidden dependencies between organisms and their environment. A lot of people then pressed the ID side on this implausible assertion. It seemed clear what was happening, at least: the ID side, having conceded a main line of argumentation, was forced to rescue its argument by defending an auxiliary assertion which the non-ID side had good arguments against.
On the other hand, later, this progress was undermined by what seemed to me to be a contradictory statement:
It seems that now, the ID side believes that nature is not generated from fair coin flips (i.e. independent)! This seems to directly contradict Reply 4, unless I am misreading this quote, or there is a typo somewhere.
Besides this direct contradiction, the ID argument has also been reversed: that ID can prove an intelligence is required even with dependencies in the environment (such as common descent).
To me, this makes the argument even more untenable. This is basically saying that Josh’s major point of refutation against ID (that nature is not completely random, but with dependencies such as common descent) is going to rescue the argument. It is super-duper confusing.
The conclusion: is it just me, or is the ID side arguing several contradictory things? The logic has just completely gone off the rails here. At least I’m confused. It would be very helpful for people to be able to enlighten me here.