Midhun on Information

I’m unfamiliar with the concepts presented by Sanford. But, as a supporter of design, here’s a brief summary of my understanding regarding biological information and evolution.

Information meeting the following three criteria is an indicator of Design.
(1) Should be in digital format. That is, digital information.
(2) The digital string must encode a specific function. I’m denoting the specific function encoded by this string as ‘x’. The collection of all strings that can encode ‘x’ should constitute a minute fraction within the total combinatorial space of strings.
(3) It must be the relative arrangement of discrete units within the string that imparts upon its function and no natural processes known to us should direct/bias the arrangement of individual units towards function. Any arrangement of units caused by natural processes must be random w.r.t the function ‘x’

I’m calling the information that meets the above three criteria as ‘FDI’ (short for Functional Digital Information). FDI is an indicator of Design. All digital strings that satisfies the other two criteria are examples of FDI.

However, an important point has to be considered. I’ll illustrate that point with an example. Imagine a computer program capable of generating meaningful English text from user-input letters, effectively creating new digital information. This program is an example of FDI and hence the product of direct and deliberate action of a designing intelligence. However, the generated English texts, while they may also be FDI, do not require the direct intervention of a designing intelligence.

Similarly, when contemplating the origin of new genetic information in the history of life, there is no necessity to invoke design in every instance. Pre-existing informational guidance can lead to the emergence of new genetic information. Cells inherently possess the capacity to create genomic changes, particularly in response to environmental stress. Genomic changes may be actively generated by cellular processes or may arise as an emergent property of complex multi-molecular interactions during stressful conditions. I’ve previously discussed some of these inherent mechanisms that demonstrate how organisms are designed to evolve. What is the creative potential of evolution mediated by built-in mechanisms? Can they produce complex features such as bacterial flagella, photosynthetic machinery or Cambrian body plans? At present, we lack empirical evidence to affirm this. Even if future studies demonstrates such potential, it would still be consistent with the Intelligent Design theory.

In essence, the question ‘can evolution create new genetic information?’ is incomplete. The question a design proponent should ask is ‘can evolution create ‘x’ in the absence of any built-in mechanisms?’

For that, the debate should be focused on a [hypothetical] period in life’s history when these built-in mechanisms were absent: the [hypothetical] evolution of a primitive self-replicating system that would eventually give rise to a modern-type cell. That is, here ‘x’ stands for first modern-type cells. Can evolution generate the information that encode ‘x’ without the aid of these built-in mechanisms? Zero emperical data to say “yes”. I call this problem the “evolutionary kick off conundrum”.

By “modern-type cell,” I mean a cell that encodes its genetic information in the DNA molecule, with gene expression orchestrated by a translation machinery involving ribosomes. All extant life forms serve as illustrations of modern-type cells. Even the microfossil signatures dating back approximately 4 billion years (such as stromatolites and hematite structures) resemble those produced by modern bacteria.

Now, let’s evaluate each of the above three criteria.

(1) In a modern-type cell, genetic information is primarily encoded in DNA as digital data in the form of sequences of nucleotides. Therefore, it constitutes digital information. The same applies to RNA & proteins.

(2) As previously stated, ‘x’ corresponds to first modern-type cells. The exact fraction of sequences that encode ‘x’ hasn’t been experimentally determined. Nevertheless, we do know that sequences encoding specific catalytic proteins larger than the average size are exceedingly rare in the sequence space. Given that a multitude of such sequences is needed to encode ‘x’, we can reasonably deduce that this fraction is infinitesimal.

(3) The impartation of function stems from the relative arrangement of nucleotides, and no known natural or non-intelligent causes can direct or bias this arrangement toward the function ‘x’.

All three criteria are met and therefore any sequences encoding ‘x’ serves as an example of FDI and evidence for the activity of a designing intelligence.

This is likely to be your undoing. DNA isn’t digital.

This isn’t going to work either. DNA doesn’t denote a specific function.

Even if you take a simplistic view that a DNA sequence encodes an RNA sequence that encodes a protein with particular characteristics, you’ll still be hit by (i) alternative reading frames of the DNA that mean one sequence can produce multiple different proteins; (ii) different intron/exon possibilities that also mean one sequence can produce multiple different proteins; (iii) genetic code variants that lead the same sequence producing different proteins; (iv) proteins having multiple folds and/or multiple binding sites and/or low specificity of binding sites and/or multiple different substrates that fit the same binding site, all of which mean that one protein can perform multiple functions.

Natural selection biases the arrangement of DNA towards function.

Why is FDI an indicator of design? You have a massive gap in your argument at this point.

We have empirical evidence that shows that at one point in time there were no flagella or Cambrian body plans, and at a later time there were, with no evidence of any other process other than evolution having taken place.

Then “Intelligent Design theory” (which doesn’t exist, btw) would be consistent with any outcome, hence unfalsifiable, hence useless.

You are aware that “modern-type cells” as you call them predate flagella, Cambrian body plans and probably photosynthesis as well, right? So investigating this won’t actually answer your question. The cynical part of me is wondering if you’re deliberately focussing on the part of life’s history that is least investigable so as to ensure never getting an answer and never having to abandon your ideas, but you may just have been biased by other ID advocates that do this.

It’s not digital. There are no digits involved. DNA is a molecule.

We can assign labels to nucleotides (or amino-acids) and produce digital data that reflects the information in the DNA, but the ‘genetic information’ itself is not digital, any more than the information inherent in the sizes/shapes/locations/orientations of planets, grains in a heap of sand or molecules in the ocean is digital.

No it doesn’t.

You’re engaging in the sharpshooter fallacy by looking only at what has already happened, and not at what could have happened.

Again, natural selection is a natural non-intelligent process that biases the arrangements of nucleotides towards sequences that result in survival.

The first criteria fails completely, the second is fallacious, the third has also failed, and even if they were all met, you haven’t linked them to design.


Why? You state those are your criteria, you don’t explain why you think they indicate design.

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If you’re including this in your definition of FDI, how can you know that FDI even exists? After all, the very thing that’s being disputed is whether natural processes can direct the formation of function or ‘information.’ Am I missing something?

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“All present life is based on digitally encoded information in polynucleotide strings…”

I didn’t rule out that possibility. It should encode at least one ‘x’.

You’re discussing the nucleotide arrangement, correct? When I used the term “arrangement of individual units,” I was referring to the nucleotide arrangement. Natural selection can prefer one sequence over another, but it doesn’t dictate or bias the initial formation of the sequence by ordering the nucleotides in a particular way.

The reasoning can be briefly outlined as:
Premise 1: FDI can be generated by the action of a designing intelligence.
Premise 2: By definition, FDI is improbable to originate through non-intelligent causes.
Inference: The activity of a designing intelligence is the most plausible explanation for the origin of FDI.

This reasoning can apply to any example of FDI.

please substantiate this statement

That’s not correct. It is indeed falsifiable. To refute my argument, one simply needs to demonstrate that a basic proto-cell, that could have originated on prebiotic Earth, can evolve into a modern-type cell without relying on any built-in mechanisms.

The sole period in the history of life on Earth where I can confidently rule out any influence from built-in mechanisms is the hypothetical evolutionary process from a primitive self-replicating system to a modern-type cell, which stands as the first major milestone in biological evolution. This is why I emphasize this specific phase.

The reasoning can be briefly outlined as:
Premise 1: FDI can be generated by the action of a designing intelligence.
Premise 2: By definition, FDI is improbable to originate through non-intelligent causes.
Inference: The activity of a designing intelligence is the most plausible explanation for the origin of FDI.

This reasoning can apply to any example of FDI.

As far as I’m aware, there is no dispute over the fact that natural processes cannot guide the arrangement of nucleotides toward functionality. Natural selection can prefer one sequence over another but it doesn’t dictate the initial formation of sequence by ordering the nucleotides in particular way.

I agree, there is no dispute, because it’s universally accepted by biologists that it can. The people who dispute this are beyond the tiniest fringe.

It’s been directly experimentally tested. Find and read the paper titled “can an arbitrary sequence evolve towards acquiring a biological function?”

They show that it can.


That might be apply to humans as the designing intelligence, but we already know that humans exist, so it isn’t a useful conclusion.

If you mean some designing intelligence other than human, you will first need to show such a thing exists, and then that humans did not design it. Otherwise you have a circular argument.


That premise just begs the question.


You certainly gave that impression when you stated:

The normal interpretation would be that of a singular specific function.

Add to this, you fail to define “digital”, a word that is often very loosely used. From this context:

… I can only assume that you mean anything that any scientist has, even in passing, described as “digital” – a definition so loose as to be absolutely useless.

Further, you failed to define (let alone justify) how “minute” a “fraction” is needed to qualify.

Thus your “three criteria” would appear to exhibit a known feature of all ID (and creationist more generally) discussion of information – it is about as rigorous as a blancmange.


Wait, hold on… how does this inference follow at all from the premises? Just because the activity of a designing intelligence could serve as an account of the emergence of FDI, does not make it plausible (let alone most plausible) or an explanation. We have to demonstrate that the designing intelligence in question actually could produce the FDI in question. That it exists, and has some means of producing FDI. That’s just to make it a plausible account. To make it an explanation, we’d have to devise some way to actually test this model, some predictions it yields, thus showing that there is anything about the process we understood above and beyond a hand-wave-y “that’s how that happens”.


Hi Midhun

When you say “cannot” you are forcing yourself to prove a negative. It is best to ask for examples of natural processes generating new functional information.

You are right that natural selection does not “dictate”. It helps reduce the time to fix new features in a population.

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What’s an example of something that is not digital data, then? A photo tape chemically encodes image data gathered by a camera. Heck, make it a modern CCD camera and you actually get digital data in place of a chemical tape. Is the light that entered the lens a digital information carrier? What of the rock itself? If us being able to quantify some information and store it in a digital format is enough to render that information digital, then I can’t think of anything at all in nature that isn’t that. But if everything is digital information from one point of view or another, then to point at anything to say as much is meaningless sophistry. You might as well point and say “Look! This thing exists!”.

The referenced previous statement:

Again I must question how what you say is meaningfull in a verificationist sense. If cells are functions, exactly what does a non-function look like? Would I know one if I encountered it? And if no, then what is the point of giving a new name to it instead of just calling it a “thing”?

Allow me to substitute:

The impartation of function stems from the relative arrangement of nucleotides, and no known natural or non-intelligent causes can direct or bias this arrangement toward the function ‘cell’.

With all due respect, this seems to be coming rather out of nowhere. Are you saying cells do not occur naturally? If no, why not? And if yes, what does, and by what criterion could we tell the difference? If every pebble on the beach is as designed as the watch, then why would we pick it up and marvel at te intricacies of its design, over any of the pebbles it lay amongst?


No it isn’t.

Yet you didn’t. You would be more credible if you distinguished between examples and (in this case, very bad) analogies.

I’m going to go out on a limb and hypothesize that you’ve never looked at any relevant evidence. For your statement to be even marginally sincere, you’d have to have looked at a LOT of evidence. Your spiel is entirely rhetorical.

There is no ID theory. There’s not even a hypothesis. That’s how little faith ID promoters have in their pseudoscience.

The answer is a definite yes. We have evidence that you ignore.

No, we know the opposite, because we have a lot of evidence that you ignore. Your mendacity is evidenced by your failure to provide an actual number. “Exceedingly rare” is utterly useless.

We have evidence, you don’t. People who have evidence tend to specify probabilities. I can point you to a group of thousands of papers that contradict your mushy claim. Are you interested?


Quoting some-one making the same mistake you do is not an effective argument. It’s especially ineffective when it is a core part of your thesis, but incidental to theirs.

Yes you did. You didn’t previously write “at least one”, you wrote “The digital string must encode a specific function.”

You’ve just changed your argument, which is an implicit admittance that your previous argument was wrong.

Also, you’ve replied only to the last six words from a long paragraph, leaving the rest unaddressed. So your argument remains refuted.

I was also referring to the nucleotide arrangement.

You seem to think there is/was only one initial formation of a nucleotide sequence, and that the nucleotides are/were initially ordered in a particular way. There’s no reason to think that’s true, and lots of reasons to think it isn’t. You are basing your argument on your ‘conclusion’.

That wasn’t part of your definition of FDI. Premise rejected.

Which part? Do you want me to substantiate that there were no creatures with Cambrian body plans in pre-Cambrian deposits (which is a tautology)[1], or that there is no evidence of non-evolutionary processes (which you and other IDers would cite endlessly if only it existed)?

You wrote: “Even if future studies demonstrates such potential, it would still be consistent with the Intelligent Design theory.” You have already said that such a demonstration would not falsify ID.

You can’t rule that out, since there were at least a hundred million years[2] between the first self-replicators and your ‘modern-type cell’, and the cells that preceded the latter would have had built-in mechanisms.

Perhaps you should more clearly define the characteristics of your ‘modern-type’ cell. It might help if you could explain how you know that the organisms that produced microfossils 4bya had DNA. But your tendency to try to escape refutation by pretending you had written something else suggests that you aren’t here for a genuine discussion.

  1. Unless you think that pre-Cambrian deposits don’t predate Cambrian ones, in which case you have much bigger problems. ↩︎

  2. An extremely conservative estimate. ↩︎

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Ah, yes.

@Midhun’s argument can be replaced with this one:
Premise 1: FDI can be generated by the action of humans.
Premise 2: By definition, FDI is improbable to originate through other causes.
Inference: The activity of humans is the most plausible explanation for the origin of FDI.

If @Midhun can work out why this argument fails, he’ll know why his own fails too.


I don’t think that particular criticism holds. Assuming P1 and P2 to be true, then the above inference is a valid one to draw, even though the conclusion “The activity of a designing intelligence is the origin of FDI.” would not be a valid conclusion.

The problem, rather, is that the argument is merely tautological. FDI is defined as something that can only be produced by processes that are non-natural (“non-natural”, in this context, evidently meaning “other than by a designing intelligence.”) But, since we know that the information in a genome can be produced by natural processes, according to this argument it is not defined as FDI. But the entire point of the argument is to demonstrate that genetic information is FDI and therefore produced by intelligence.

As usual, the problems with creationist arguments can be boiled down to simple failures of logic, without even getting into scientific details.

I think that you are overrating the argument. It doesn’t establish that a designing intelligence is a more plausible explanation in every case. And especially not in the case of earthly life. Personally I’d rate it as the less plausible alternative in that case, based on the lack of any good case for a potential designing intelligence existing.

I’ve edited my comment while you were replying. I realized my criticism was not quite accurate. If anything, his argument was even dumber than I first thought.