(In an effort to help my IDEA comrades at Cornell I revisit the issue of Genetic-ID. My previous post on the issue caused some confusion so I’m reposting it with some clarifications. I post the topic as something I recommend their group discuss and explore.)
The corporation known as Genetic-ID (ID as in IDentification, not ID as in Intelligent Design) is able to distinguish a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) from a “naturally occurring” organism. At www.genetic-id.com they claim:
Genetic ID can reliably detect ALL commercialized genetically modified organisms.
I claim that detecting man-made artifacts (like a GMO) is a valid instance of applying the Explanatory Filter.
The Explanatory Filter is used all the time (implicitly):
The key step in formulating Intelligent Design as a scientific theory is to delineate a method for detecting design. Such a method exists, and in fact, we use it implicitly all the time. The method takes the form of a three-stage Explanatory Filter.
I want to emphasize, the Explanatory Filter (EF) is used ALL the time. When ID critics say the EF has never been used to detect anything, they misrepresent what the EF is, because the EF is used ALL the time.
The Explanatory Filter faithfully represents our ordinary practice of sorting through things we alternately attribute to law, chance, or design. In particular, the filter describes
how copyright and patent offices identify theft of intellectual property
Entire industries would be dead in the water without the Explanatory Filter. Much is riding on it. Using the filter, our courts have sent people to the electric chair.
When we detect design in a physical artifact, we detect the Complex Specified Information (CSI) the artifact evidences. That means we see that a physical artifact conforms to an independent blueprint.
In the Bill’s book, No Free Lunch (NFL), the concept of CSI if formalized. CSI is detected when the information from a physical artifact (physical information) conforms to an independent blueprint or conception (conceptual information). CSI is defined as:
The coincidence of conceptual and physical information where the conceptual information is both identifiable independently of the physical information and also complex.
It is important to note CSI is defined by two pieces of information not just one
CSI is consistent with the basic idea behind information, which is the reduction of possibilities from a reference class of possibilities. But whereas the traditional understanding of information is unary, conceiving of information as a single reduction of possibilities, complex specified information is a binary form of information. Complex specified information , and specified information more generally, depends on a dual reduction of possibilities, namely a conceptual reduction (i.e., conceptual information) combined with a physical reduction (i.e., physical information ).
Genetic-ID uses PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to detect whether an organism has physical characteristics (physical information) which match a known blueprint (conceptual information) for a GMO. This is a relatively simple case of design detection since the pattern matching method is exact and highly specific. Genetic-ID’s technique is a somewhat trivial example of design detection, but I put it on the table to help introduce the concept of the Explanatory Filter in detecting designs at the molecular level.
But how about less specific pattern matches to detect GMO’s? Do you think we could detect a GMO such as this:
The scientists took the words of the song It’s a Small World and translated it into a code based on the four “letters” of DNA. They then created artificial DNA strands recording different parts of the song. These DNA messages, each about 150 bases long, were inserted into bacteria such as E. coli and Deinococcus radiodurans.
Or how about this kind of GMO, a terminator/traitor which does not have a published specific architecture : Terminate the Terminator.
Terminator technology (sometimes called TPS-Technology Protection System or GURTs-Genetic Use Restriction Technologies) refers to plants that are genetically engineered to produce sterile seeds. If commercialized, the technology will prevent farmers from saving seed from their harvest for planting the following season. These “suicide seeds” will force farmers to return to the seed corporations every year and will make extinct the 12,000-year tradition of farmers saving, adapting and exchanging seed in order to advance biodiversity and increase food security.
Extending these ideas, can we in principle detect nano-molecular designs such as a nano-molecular computer? If we find a physical molecular artifact conforming to the blueprints of a computer, should we infer design?
With that question in mind, I point to the fact that biological systems are computers, and self-replicating computers on top of that! This fact was not lost upon Albert Voie who tied the problem of the origin-of-life to the fact that the physical artifacts of biology conform to a known blueprint, namely, a self-replicating computer. I commented on Voie’s landmark outline of the origin-of-life problem here.
In as much as biology conforms to the blueprints of a computer, are we justified in inferring design? And finally, are not the claims of Darwinian evolution ultimately claims that blindwatchmakers can create “Gentically Modified Organisms” (so to speak) from pre-existing organisms? What then do we make of Darwinian evolution’s claims?