Continuing with James Barham’s The Best Schools interview with design theorist Bill Dembski – who founded this blog – this time on whether there is information in the abstract.
TBS: As your last answer makes clear, one of the key concepts you use in your work on ID is “information.” We have two questions about this. First, it seems to us that information, properly speaking, is always information-for-an-agent. That is, there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as information in the abstract, unrelated to some agent or intelligence for which the information is meaningful. So-called information, abstracted from its meaning for an agent, is really more properly termed “structure” or “pattern” or something of that sort. Given this definitional stipulation, then, the way the ID literature relies upon the concept of information appears question-begging, at least with respect to its positive claim—the external-design thesis. That is to say, ID’s inference to an external designer seems to depend upon a premise about information that already tacitly assumes the existence of an intelligence external to all living matter. Would you care to comment?
WD: I’m afraid I don’t agree with your first premise here. Whenever I set the groundwork for information in a discussion of ID, I make clear that information happens when there is a reduction of possibilities. Initially, there is a range of live possibilities. Later, one of these possibilities is realized. Information happens in that reduction and realization.
What makes the design inference work is a coincidence between information produced by nature and information produced by designers.
Now, the individuation of these possibilities and the causal process involved in their realization need involve no external intelligence. Tomorrow, it may rain or it may not rain. Both are live possibilities, and the fact that they are live possibilities does not depend on my, or any other external intelligence, drawing the distinction between rain and no rain. Moreover, the causal processes responsible for rain do not presuppose an external intelligence (at least not obviously so, though one might argue that if God created the world and providentially guides it, intelligence is involved even in the rain that falls).
So, in answer to your question, nature can produce information and in doing so it need beg no questions about external designers. That said, external designers can also produce information—as I am doing now by typing out my answer to your question. What makes the design inference work is a coincidence between information produced by nature and information produced by designers.
We see such a coincidence, for instance, in the bacterial flagellum. Ostensibly, nature produced it. And yet humans, as designing agents and without knowledge of such systems, also produced bidirectional motor-driven propellers. This coincidence calls for explanation, especially when it is cashed out with the full probabilistic design-theoretic apparatus that I develop. But the bottom line, in answer to your question, is that information, properly construed, is a powerful notion that does not beg the question in the way you suggest.
Next: Is information a primitive concept on a par with matter and energy?
See also: What does Bill Dembski think of David Abel’s “prescriptive information” theory?
Dembski on why ID’s struggle is going to be long and hard
Bill Dembski answers, How do we explain bad design?
Bill Dembski on the problem of good
Bill Dembski on young vs. old Earth creationists, and where he stands
Bill Dembski on the Evolutionary Informatics Lab – the one a Baylor dean tried to
Why Bill Dembski took aim against the Darwin frauds and their enablers #1
Why Bill Dembski took aim against the Darwin frauds and their enablers Part 2
Bill Dembski: The big religious conspiracy revealed #3
Bill Dembski: Evolution “played no role whatever” in his conversion to Christianity #4
So how DID Bill Dembski get interested in intelligent design? #5b – bad influences, it seems
So how DID Bill Dembski get interested in intelligent design? #5a
Bill Dembski: Trouble happens when they find out you mean business
What is Bill Dembski planning to do now?
What difference did Ben Stein’s Expelled film make? Dembski’s surprisingly mixed review
Bill Dembski on the future of intelligent design in science