Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Where's the 'Ski?

Have you seen me?

Over at the intelligent design website Uncommon Descent, the virtual community has been universally stumped by a commenter, and now posting contributor, called MathGrrl.

She makes an eminently reasonable request of the ID proponents:
In the abstract of Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence, William Dembski 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.

My first detailed discussion was with UD regular gpuccio, in a series of four threads hosted by Mark Frank. While we didn’t come to any resolution, we did cover a number of details that might be of interest to others following the topic.

CSI came up again in a recent thread here on UD. I asked the participants there to assist me in better understanding CSI by providing a rigorous mathematical definition and showing how to calculate it for four scenarios:
  1. A simple gene duplication, without subsequent modification, that increases production of a particular protein from less than X to greater than X. The specification of this scenario is “Produces at least X amount of protein Y.”
  2. Tom Schneider’s ev evolves genomes using only simplified forms of known, observed evolutionary mechanisms, that meet the specification of “A nucleotide that binds to exactly N sites within the genome.” The length of the genome required to meet this specification can be quite long, depending on the value of N. (ev is particularly interesting because it is based directly on Schneider’s PhD work with real biological organisms.)
  3. Tom Ray’s Tierra routinely results in digital organisms with a number of specifications. One I find interesting is “Acts as a parasite on other digital organisms in the simulation.” The length of the shortest parasite is at least 22 bytes, but takes thousands of generations to evolve.
  4. The various Steiner Problem solutions from a programming challenge a few years ago have genomes that can easily be hundreds of bits. The specification for these genomes is “Computes a close approximation to the shortest connected path between a set of points.”

The ID-ers seem unable to provide MathGrrl with what should be very simple to provide. Nevertheless, the obvious question is where is the presiding ID mathematician William Dembski? His absence is now conspicuous.

I predict that he is busy furiously writing a carefully worded response to MathGrrl, in which he says she has misunderstood his work

1 comment:

  1. “Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?”

    This sentence indicates a confused speaker. MathGrrl says "this strikes me as the most readily testable claim made by ID proponents," which is certainly possible if the other ID statements are dualistic or resemble something written by someone with Wernicke's aphasia.

    "Nothing is known," can't mean anything. There has to be context.

    "Reliably signal" raises the issue of probability, for which it would only possible to rule out unknown members of the "non-(intelligent cause)" set with bizarre priors.

    "[I]ntelligent cause" is also undefined. Apparently Dembski believes that no entity of a certain type can be made without it being modeled sufficiently well by a map in the mind of another entity. Why would someone believe this applies to (living) things? Humans create (even nonhuman) beings without particularly good mental modeling of the ingredients (other living things, usually) used. Many animals create things. What's the relationship between any given thing made of non-brains and the minimum quality of its representation in neural substrate of some of its necessary causes, and why?

    The "most testable claim" by ID proponents isn't even a claim.

    Improved it might read: "Can any object, even one about which from how I encounter it I am incapable of processing most actual evidence about its origins, contain evidence that a likely cause of it was a certain quality and quantity of mental representation before its physical production?"

    No, because if you can't process most of the relevant evidence, you can't justifiably conclude anything so specific (and arbitrary) with high probability.


Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.