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Friday, February 22, 2008

Today at the Overwhelming Evidence blog

Just plain big? How do animals get that way?

Why the exploding palm tree explodes - or why it doesn't

Frog from hell? Well, that's how Nature News is telling it. Apollyon, check your e-mail.

Intelligent Design: Did Biological Life Require It?

February 19, 2008
K.D. Kalinsky

(Note from Denyse: An ID theorist asked me to publish this essay on detecting design in nature. It is exactly as the scientist gave it to me except that

- I have linked the sections for easier Web handling

- all the notes have been moved to the end.

- I don't see a font choice for superscripts or subscripts in Blogger, so have decided to enclose the element that would be super or subscripted in two periods. In the number 10.-64. assume that .-64. Is a superscript. In the equation, P.f. = M(E.x.)/N, assume that .f. and .x. are subscripts.

A .pdf version of his paper exists but is not on line as of this writing, so far as I know. I am glad to publish non-abusive comments that focus on the paper.)

Next: Introduction


I. Introduction
II. Defining some terms and concepts
III. The role of intelligent design in science
IV. Functional Information
V. Application to Biological Life
VI. Conclusion
End Notes


I. Introduction

This article is meant to stimulate thought and discussion. As that discussion unfolds, I expect that this article will be revised over time in the same way that a paper submitted to a journal is often revised during the process of review. The purpose of this article is to attempt to bring some clarity to the discussion of intelligent design and the origin and diversity of biological life. Essentially, we have two options. Either biological life required intelligent design or it did not. As with most problems in science, it is difficult to prove one option or another with absolute certainty. Instead, options can be evaluated against each other in an attempt to estimate which option is more likely. Even then, the fact that one option may be more likely than another does not 'prove' that it is actually the case. Instead, I will propose a way in which both options can be evaluated against each other. The results indicate that it seems highly likely that intelligent design was required for biological life.

Next: II. Defining some terms and concepts


II. Defining some terms and concepts

There is considerable confusion over what intelligent design is. Indeed, the concept is often used in different ways. It is sometimes used to describe a cause and other times used to describe an effect. For example, someone can ask if a laptop computer requires intelligent design or they can ask if it is an example of intelligent design. In the first use, 'intelligent design' is being used in the causal sense; it is a necessary cause for a laptop computer. In the second use, it is being used as a result or effect; intelligent design is the result of a prior cause, presumably a mind. For the purpose of this article, I will treat intelligent design as an effect. In other words, the question, 'does this laptop computer require intelligent design?, can be replaced by the question, 'is this laptop computer an example of intelligent design?' Of course, if one is inclined to be more exhaustive in their definitions then, as is often the case in lexicons, two or more definitions or senses of the term can be offered.

If we take intelligent design to be an effect, then we can define it as an effect that requires a mind. If we take intelligent design to be causal, then we can define it as the process of producing an effect that requires a mind. Since the common denominator in both uses is an effect that requires a mind, I will define intelligent design as follows:
Intelligent Design: an effect that requires a mind.

It follows from this that a necessary requirement for intelligent design is a mind. Of course, natural processes could also be necessary as well but, in this case, insufficient to produce the effect. Thus, at the very least, intelligent design requires a mind but may also require natural processes as well. In other words, natural processes may be necessary for intelligent design, but they are not sufficient; a mind is also necessary. The other option is the hypothesis that intelligent design is not required for a given effect. This second option must assume that natural processes are not only necessary to produce the effect, but they are also sufficient. A mind is not necessary. Thus, to be perfectly clear, this second option entails that mindless natural processes are necessary and sufficient to produce the given effect.

To illustrate the two options, let us imagine that the SETI Institute obtains a signal from outside the solar system that contains the first 50 prime numbers. If they were to conclude that it was more likely that a mind would be necessary to produce the signal than that mindless natural processes were sufficient to produce the phenomenon, then the signal would be a possible example of intelligent design. It would only be a possible example due to the nature of scientific investigation; we could not be certain. No matter how improbable, it is still logically possible that the signal could have been generated by mindless natural processes. The best we could do is to weigh the probability that a mind could produce such a signal against the probability that mindless natural processes could do it and draw a conclusion as to which option was more likely. We know that a mind can generate the first 50 prime numbers, so the probability that a mind could produce that information is 1. If the probability that natural processes could generate the first 50 prime numbers is less than 1, then one can compare the two probabilities to decide how much more likely intelligent design is than mindless natural processes. If it turns out that intelligent design is ten times more likely, or a thousand more times more likely, then it becomes increasingly irrational to invoke mindless natural processes, and increasingly rational to invoke intelligent design.
Causal Hypothesis: For any effect, either mindless natural processes are sufficient to cause the effect, or a mind is required.

The problem arises in estimating which of the two options is more likely. We need something that we can use to distinguish between examples of intelligent design and
mindless natural processes. One possibility is the following hypothesis:
Intelligence Hypothesis: an attribute that distinguishes a mind from mindless natural processes is the ability of a mind to produce effects requiring significant levels of functional information.

The above Intelligence Hypothesis allows that mindless natural processes can accidentally produce functional information within, say, the background noise of a physical system, but the information will not achieve a significant level. It also allows for the fact that a mind can mimic mindless natural processes by producing effects that do not require a significant level of functional information. We are left with the following questions:

1. How is functional information measured?
2. What constitutes a significant level of functional information?

Before we look at these questions, we will take a brief look at the role of intelligent design in science.

Next: III. The role of intelligent design in science


III. The role of intelligent design in science

Intelligent design plays an important role in at least three areas of science, including intelligent design detection, reverse engineering, and applied design (e.g., human intelligence applied to experimental design). In this section, I shall limit the discussion to the role of intelligent design detection in science. Intelligent design detection can be defined as follows:
Intelligent design detection: the discipline of examining an effect and determining if it is an example of intelligent design.

An area of science where intelligent design detection is front and center is in the SETI Institute's ongoing search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Radio and optical signals from deep space are monitored and analyzed to determine if the signal may have come from an extra terrestrial intelligence or not. Intelligent design detection is also important for archeology, where a distinction must be made between artifacts and effects due to natural processes. For example, ground penetrating radar can be used to search for ancient building sites and artifacts. The results must be continually analyzed to determine if what is being seen by radar is the result of mindless natural processes, or the product of intelligent design. Intelligent design detection is also central to forensic science, which concerns itself with whether the crime was carried out by an intelligent agent, in this case, human, or was due to natural causes. With advances in genetics and cell biology, and the discovery of molecular machines, molecular computers and functional sequence complexity encoded in the genomes of life, intelligent design detection has now become necessary in biology. Furthermore, the J.Craig Venter Institute's creation of a synthetic M. genitalium genome presents us with a genome that is known to have been built by intelligent design, and that contains five 'watermarks'.1 Strictly speaking, it is the 'watermarks' that are known to be a result of intelligent design. Some have asserted that intelligent design has no place in science, but of course intelligent design detection is firmly entrenched and essential to SETI, archeology, and forensic science. Those who insisted that ID has no place in biology will have to admit that now that synthetic genomes are being constructed, with 'watermarks', intelligent design detection is now an issue in biology as well. The job of science is to come up with a general, scientific approach to intelligent design detection. One possible approach that has the potential of being general enough to be applied to SETI, archeology, forensic science, and biology is suggested by the Intelligence Hypothesis: examine the functional information required to produce the effect and then to decide if it is more likely than not that intelligence was required to produce that degree of functional information.

Next: IV. Functional Information


IV. Functional Information

The Intelligence Hypothesis suggests that intelligence can produce effects that require a significant amount of functional information. To proceed, we need a method to measure functional information and, second, we need to decide what constitutes a significant level of functional information.

Measuring functional information

A method to measure functional information has recently been published by Hazen et al.
whereby functional information is defined as

I(E.x.) = - log.2.[M(E.x.)/N] (1)

where E.x. is the degree of function x, M(E.x.) is the number of different configurations that achieves or exceeds the specified degree of function x, ≥ E.x., and N is the total number of possible configurations.2 To illustrate, suppose we inherit grandfather's safe that has a combination lock that requires three numbers, each within the range of 0 to 99. Since each number has 100 possibilities, and there are three numbers, N = 100.3. = 1,000,000
possible combinations. Let us suppose that the mechanism has a little slop to it such that one need only get within 1 digit of each of the three numbers. In other words, for each of the three numbers in the combination, there are actually three functional options. Therefore, the total number of functional combinations that will open the safe is M(E.x.) = 3.3. = 27 functional combinations. The amount of functional information required to open grandfather's safe is therefore

I(E.x.) = - log.2.[27/1,000,000] = 15 bits of functional information.

As Hazen et al. point out, 'functional information quantifies the probability that, for a particular system, a configuration with a specified degree of function will emerge', where the probability is denoted by M(E.x.)/N. Strictly speaking, the probability that Hazen et al. speak of is the probability P.f. of achieving the function in a single sampling, or

P.f. = M(E.x.)/N. (2)

As more trials are attempted, the probability of achieving the function improves.

Estimating I.sig.

This raises the second question; what constitutes a significant level of functional information I.sig.? The Intelligence Hypothesis suggests that the attribute that distinguishes intelligence from mindless natural processes, is the ability to produce significant levels of functional information. Mindless natural processes can accidentally produce effects requiring a low level of functional information. For example, if we were to move grandfather's safe down to the riverbank, and attach a water driven turbine to the dial, and install the turbine in a turbulent portion of the current, where the turbine could be turned either direction by the current, it is possible that, after a long enough time, the variable current may actually open grandfather's safe. Of course, the number of trials may vastly exceed 1,000,000 if the same combinations are mindlessly tried more than once.

Recall, as Hazen et al. point out, that probability is at the core of the equation to measure functional information. We must establish a relationship between the number of trials mindless natural processes have for the particular problem, and P.f..

A search by mindless natural processes is essentially a random walk, where the search
proceeds in no set direction and, for any point in the search, it can be returned to any number of times. This is not to be confused with an evolutionary search that is directed by a fitness function or a fitness landscape, which will be discussed later. We must first establish I.sig. for a mindless natural search. In such a search, the probability that a given sampling will not be successful is 1 – P.f.. For a search involving R trials, the probability that it will not be successful is (1 – P.f.).R.. Therefore, the probability that the search will be successful is simply 1 - (1 – P.f.).R.. Let us assume that a search will be successful if the search performs enough trials to raise the probability of success to 0.5, or

0.5 = 1 - (1 – P.f. ).R..

Simplifying, we get

Pf = 1-(1-0.5).1/R. (2)

Eqn. (2) gives us an estimate for the most improbable functional event that a blind search could reasonably expect to find, given R trials. That being the case, the highest level of functional information that natural processes could reasonably be expected to produce for a given function would be the case where only one functional configuration would
reasonably be found in R trials, or

I.nat. = - log.2.[1-(1-0.5).1/R.]. (3)

The requirement for I.sig. is that it must be greater than I.nat.. For example, if the turbine method of trying to open grandfather's safe was capable of 500,000 trials before the system wore out, then the turbine-safe system could reasonably be expected to produce as much as 13 bits of functional information (I.sig. = 13 bits). Since a functional combination requires 15 bits of functional information, one could not reasonably expect the turbine system to open the safe without any intelligent design so far as finding the right combination is concerned. Therefore, if such a system were built and the safe successfully opened, we could on reasonable grounds accuse the engineer of having biased the system to find the right combination, for the physical system was unlikely to have done it without any intelligently designed bias built in. Due to the nature of probability, however, it is possible that the river current could open grandfather's safe on the very first try, or it might never open the safe. It is also possible that the engineer did not build in an intelligently designed bias to find the right combination, we were just fortunate. We could never be absolutely sure, therefore, whether there was a built in intelligently designed bias or not. Since at the core of functional information is probability, we can never arrive at a definitive conclusion, only a likely, probable, or plausible conclusion. This leads to the following considerations.

Probability considerations

1. I.nat. is not a cutoff for the amount of functional information natural processes can produce. Rather, the probability that natural processes can produce x amount of functional information decreases exponentially as the amount of functional information increases beyond I.nat.. For example, if I.nat. = 32 bits of functional information, using Eqn. (1), this corresponds to a probability of approximately 10.-10. whereas 64 bits of functional information corresponds to a probability of approximately 10.-19.. In other words, 64 bits of functional information is only twice as much information as 32 bits, but one billion times more difficult to find in a search.

2. Our observations indicate that there does not seem to be any known limit to the amount of functional information that intelligence can produce. It seems to be capable of producing anywhere from 0 bits and up.

3. In view of the previous two points, we can only speak of the likelihood that an effect required intelligent design, where the greater the difference between the functional information required for the effect and I.nat., the more likely it is that intelligent design was required. This would hold true for SETI, archeology, forensic science, and biological life.

Method to gauge the likelihood of intelligent design

Given that there is no known upper limit for the amount of functional information a mind can produce, for any effect requiring or producing functional information, intelligent design is the more likely explanation if

I(E.x.) > I.nat.. (4)

The greater the difference between I(E.x.) and I.nat., the more likely it is that intelligent design was required. It will be assumed, for simplicity, that the probability that mindless natural processes can achieve I.nat. is 1 and decreases probabilistically for I(E.x.) > I.nat.. The probability that intelligent design can achieve I(Ex) will be assumed to be 1 for any finite amount of functional information. This is a reasonable assumption, given our observations of what intelligence can do and the apparent absence of any upper limit.

This method can, in principle, be applied within the fields of forensic science,
archeology, SETI, and biology, as well as in areas outside of science, such as lottery gaming investigations, plagiarism investigations, and the justice system, to name a few.

Next: V. Application to Biological Life


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