# Gpuccio: Functional Information Methodology

Swamidass:

Please, let me go on with some linear explanation of ID theory and my approach to it. Then I will answer your three questions.

You may have noticed that I have proposed two different questions about what ID theory is about:

1. What is the connection between complex FI and the design inference?

2. How does that apply to biological objects?

Now, if we want to understand each other, we have to focus first on the first question. To do that, we must for the moment forget biological objects. After all, they are the object we are discussing about: are they designed or do they arise by other mechanisms? So, we will for the moment consider the origin of biological objects undecided, and try to understand ID theory without any reference to biology.

To do that, we need an explicit definition of design and of functional information. I have offered a lnk to my two OPs about those two definitions. So, I will just remind here that:

1. Design is any process where some conscious intelligent and purposeful agent imprints some specific configuration to a material object deriving it from subjective representations in his consciousness. The key point here is that the subjective representation must precede its output to the materila oobject.

2. FI is the number of bits required to implement some explicitly defined function. Any function can be used. FI is always defined in relation to the defined function, whatever it is. n object exhibits the level of FI linked to the function if it can be used to implement the explicitly defined function at the explicitly defined level.

3. In general, an explicitly defined function generates a binary partition in a well defined system and set of possible objects: those that can implement it, and those that cannot. FI, in general, is computed as -log2 of the ratio of the target space (the number of objects that can implement the function) to the search space (the number of possible objects) in the defined system.

More in next post.

Finally, a definition of “design”.

It looks like an entirely reasonable definition.

With this definition, it should be trivially obvious that biological organisms are not the result of design.

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Neil,

I am happy that you appreciate the definition. I love definitions.

For the conclusions, we will see…

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Speaking only for myself, I don’t think there is any reason to discuss design, or “ID theory,” in this context until the very basic questions asked by @swamidass are addressed. And I would reiterate that asking this question outside of even a basic phylogenetic analysis/approach is futile.

It is not possible to talk meaningfully about “functional information” without these basic foundational tasks being done.

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I agree. Rather than a primer on ID generalities, let’s focus on what specifically you @gpuccio are doing.

For example, with your definition of design, there must be a pre-existing design. You are empirically based. So what evidence can you produce for a pre-existing specification? As @nwrickert, it seems obvious that this does not exist, at least not in an human accessible form.

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To all:

So, the central core of ID theory is the following:

Leaving aside biological objects (for the moment), there is not one single example in the whole known universe where FI higher than 500 bits arises without any intervention of design.

On the contrary, FI higher than 500 bits (often much higher than that) abunds in designed objects. I mean human artifacts here.

Therefore, if we observe FI in any object (leaving aside for the moment biological objects) we can safely infer a design origin for that object.

That procedure will generate no false positives. Of course, it will generate a lot of false negatives. The threshold of 500 bits has been chosen exactly to get that type of result.

If those points are not clear, we are not really discussing iD theory, but something else.

This strong connection between high FI levels and a design origin has, of course, a rationale. But its foundation is completey empirical. We can observe that connection practically everywhere.

The rationale could be expressed as follows: there is no known necessity law that generates those levels of FI without any design intervention. Therefore, FI in non design systems can arise only by chance. But a threshold of 500 bits is so much higher than the probabilistic resources of the known universe, that we can be sure that such an event is empirically impossible. The probabilistic barriers of getting 500 bits of FI are simply too high to be overcome.

Well, that’s ID theory in a nutshell. I will come to the application to biology later. But I am confident that this simple summary will be enough for the moment to generate some answers.

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You present a bare assertion as a premise of your analysis.

Why should we agree with this? It seems obviously false. What evidence do can you present to support this assumption?

There are examples of non-designed processes processes we can directly observe producing FI. We can observe high amounts of FI in cancer evolution too, which you agree is not designed. We also see high amounts of FI in viruses, which you also agree are not designed. All these, and more, are all counter examples to your assumption.

As a technical point, without clarifying precisely how FI is defined, this is not at all clearly the case.

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I was answering to the remarks made here asking how I got to the design inference from the simple observation of complex FI. If you are not interested in the theory you seem to discuss so often here, please clarify that.

But that seems not to be the case. I see that, as expected, my “primer on ID generalities” has already generated some fierce response. So, I think I will go on, and answer them.

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This is what you should be working to demonstrate. You have now asserted this, so you should proceed to demonstrate the truth of this assertion.

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I’m sorry, I did not mean to communicate any lack of interest in design; for me, the topic is very interesting and I was not criticizing your inclusion of the topic in general. I added “in this context” in a failed attempt to point out that without some foundational and very basic additional information, the analysis that attempts to address “functional information” is meaningless at best and misleading at worst.

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I have a 2048 bit gpg key. Okay, maybe the RSA cryptosystem is inefficient, and there are less than 500 bits of FI there. But I could generate a longer key in much the same way. So the 500 bits doesn’t seem much of a limit.

The RSA key itself was mostly produced by a random number generator, with some filtering. Yes, you could say that the random number generator was designed. And you could say that the RSA cryptosystem was designed. Still, the key itself is mostly generated randomly, so does not seem designed.

What it amounts to, is that if you want to consider the role of design, then you have to push the design further back than the FI (functional information).

There are plenty of people at this site who have no problem with saying that there’s design involved in biological organisms. But they see a need to push the design further back than the organisms themselves. For example, they may see the system of evolution as being designed, but they don’t see individual organisms as designed.

As an agnostic, I cannot rule out the possibility that the system of evolution is designed. Possibly there are some atheists, maybe even Richard Dawkins, who might admit that they cannot rule out design at that level. But you cannot have a science of design for design at that level. You can maybe have a philosophy or theology, but not a science.

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A few comments from the peanut gallery.

I find it helpful to have this context given because I’m not already familiar with @gpuccio’s work. If it has wandered out-of-bounds for the relevant question, that should soon become apparent.

@gpuccio: Is this Behe’s definition? Your own?? I am just curious to the source due to another recent discussion here.

Again, a source would be interesting. I won’t argue these definitions here (others have already), but I can work them into other ongoing discussions.

I think you could find naturally occurring non-biological examples too.

@colewd I suggest your question is better for a side thread. I’ll start one … no I won’t, it already exists!

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Hi everyone,

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Consider a cartoon piece of sequence that is 100 bp in length. The sequence has a function, every basepair contributes to the function, and loss of the function is lethal to the organism. 0.1% of all randomly chosen sequences could serve the same function equally well. This means the sequence has 7 bits of FI, correct? 300 different sequences can be reached from the functional sequence by one single-base substitution – which is the only kind of mutation in this cartoon world. The most likely case, then, is that all 100 bases will be conserved through evolution. Will blast return a bitscore of 7 bits for a 100 bp exact match?

ETA: Sorry, that’s 10 bits – I was taking the natural log.

Actually doing a BLAST search in the human genome for a 100 bp perfect match, I get a bit score of 194 bits (calculating from the E score and assuming a target genome size of 3e9). For this scenario, the bit score is clearly not a good estimator of the FI as you have defined it. It’s not because the two are measuring fundamentally different things. The bit score assesses the probability of a specific sequence by chance, with no reference to the other sequences that could perform the same function, while FI represents the probability of finding a sequence with equivalent function.

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Since we’re dealing with BLAST searches here, I’m assuming that the search space is all possible sequences in a genome of the same size. (I’ve been assuming we’re using nucleotide sequence, but the argument is the same if instead we use amino acid sequence for proteins.)

In my opinion, this is needlessly redundant. Moreover, it strays from the usages first put forward by Dembski (who only spoke of specifications). For me, when it comes to proteins (the usual focus of biological ID), a specification is the same as the biochemical activity possessed by the protein - ATPase, RNA binding, etc., etc. I have never found it necessary to introduce more layers of confusion and terminology on this.

Be that as it may, this thread is about @gpuccio’s argument, and that argument relies on BLAST bit scores being a good proxy for the defined sense of FI. But they’re not.

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Understood and agreed. I just thought I would toss out my own approach to keeping track of definitions and the like, and making sense of things.

Back to our regularly-scheduled program.

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I see some answers to my questions…

This is helpful and distinguishes you from @Kirk. We agree that common descent can produce similarity, and that this would look like FI in your computation. We have had a hard time establishing this point with other ID luminaries.

The way you account for this is by only looking at ancient proteins, where you hope that millions of years would be sufficient to erase this effect. How do you know 400,000 million years is long enough to erase this effect?

Moreover, you are computing two numbers. One inside the clade, and another outside. It seems you have explain how this works for both numbers.

I have not seen the answer to this yet, and it seems critical. Neutral co-evolution, it seems, will produce the illusion of FI with your methodology, especially at long time-scales.