Sunday, March 15, 2009

Incompetent Design: Am I Refuted?

Randy Stimpson certainly thinks that he has definitely refuted the arguments I made about “specified complexity” way back in 2005.

I pointed out in my original article that two phrases of a given length (in which the same set of characters are available) are equally unlikely. Randy thinks that in my rebuttal of the probability argument against the Theory of Evolution, I somehow missed the point. I don't see how I did; maybe he's trying to introduce a new point.

To save length, I'll use my own character strings. Let's compare, shall we? If you read my previous article, these will be familiar.
My first trick was to put these phrases side-by-side, noting that the odds of drawing either at random was the same. I would ask, which of these contains “information”, though. Randy has added some criteria for information.
  1. It consists of properly spelled English words.
  2. It is grammatically correct.
  3. It makes sense.
Put that way, the first phrase obviously contains information; it lacks space and punctuation, but there's obviously a sensible phrase of English words in there. Of course, if you read my other article, you know that the second phrase also makes sense, it consists of two obscure (but related) words that I chose from another language. I was attempting to point out, at the time, that patterns and “information” are contextual: the first phrase is much more obviously information to an English-speaking audience than the second, but they both contain information. Now let's look at a really random string.
This string is not one that I carefully constructed. I set the caps lock and then just randomly pecked around the keyboard, only restricting myself to staying on the letters area and not hitting the same key twice in succession. Even so, I still managed to get a properly spelled English word by accident. Does that mean that this string contains information?

Randy's problem is that he thinks DNA must be constructed exactly like English sentences. Every word must be spelled correctly, the word order must be correct, and the sentence must be coherent when everything comes together the first time. Unfortunately for him, DNA doesn't look anything like that. DNA looks much more like my third string: it's mostly gibberish, but every once in a while there's an actual gene found in the DNA strand. An actual piece of DNA might look more like the following string.
Sure, it looks like gibberish at a glance, but if you sort through it carefully, you'll find all the words you need to make my first phrase in there (although you may notice that “THE” only appears in it once). This structure is analagous to the human genome. The great majority of the human genome doesn't code for anything, and the portions that do code for actual proteins are scattered all over it, not neatly organized.

Randy asks “What is the probability that a random character generator would produce a grammatically correct sequence of characters that makes sense?”, but it's not an accurate analogy, because DNA isn't a sequence of characters that make sense. It's a hodgepodge of genes in no particular order.

A more accurate question might be “What is the probability that a random character generator will produce a sequence of characters that forms an English word?” Notice that I accidentally came up with one within eight characters (honest, I did not put “FORM” in there on purpose).

Now, suppose that you have a rather faulty mechanism for reproducing your strings. Letters occasionally get added, removed, or substituted. In fact, whole sections can get moved around, duplicated, or deleted. Through many copies of copies, words will form. Some will get broken again, but some will stick around for a while. Suppose you start throwing out strings that don't have a particular word: you'll stop having strings that lack that word. As more words emerge, they, too, can become necessary in subsequent copies. After many copies of copies, what might you have? Something like my fourth string, perhaps?

To Randy I can only say, I don't think I'm the one getting it wrong.


debaser said...

Stimpson seems like an example of what Dawkins called "the tryanny of the discontinuous mind". DNA is complex. But it isn't designed. If he could use his computer programming skill to contrast the code of DNA against programs he makes, it could help him understand how DNA can be more complex than Microsoft Windows AND be filled with junk DNA at the same time.
He only seems to be want to compare DNA against computer programs, in order to show DNA is also designed.

All his analytical guns are pointed the wrong way.

Intelligent Designer said...

Lord Runolfr,

Our different perspectives about the nature of DNA do indeed account for some of our disagreement. I don’t consider DNA to be a hodgepodge of genes in no particular order interspersed with vast amounts of gibberish. Instead I think that the majority of DNA appears to gibberish because the current scientific understanding of DNA has barely scratched the surface of what is really there. It only makes sense that scientists would figure out what the protein-coding sequences of DNA do first. It doesn’t make sense to jump to the conclusion that the rest of it is junk.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that you are right about the nature of DNA. Even in that case my argument is still valid. As you recall my calculation regarding the probability of information used a 151 character sequence. The average length of a gene is 1210 base pairs and is hardly equivalent to the three of four letter words used in your example.