Complex Specified Information Intelligent Design Irreducible Complexity

How can we measure specified complexity?

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A friend asked about this common intelligent design concept. Specified complexity, also called complex specified information (CSI):

Life shows evidence of complex, aperiodic, and specified information in its key functional macromolecules, and the only other example we know of such function-specifying complex information are artifacts designed by intelligent agents. A chance origin of life would exceed the universal probability bound (UPB) set by the scope of the universe; hence design is a factor in the origin and development of life. Contrary to a commonly encountered (and usually dismissive) opinion, this concept is neither original to Dr Dembski nor to the design theory movement. Its first recognized use was by noted Origin of Life researcher, Leslie Orgel, in 1973:

Living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; mixtures of random polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity. [ L.E. Orgel, 1973. The Origins of Life. New York: John Wiley, p. 189.

The concept of complex specified information helps us understand the difference between (a) the highly informational, highly contingent aperiodic functional macromolecules of life and (b) regular crystals formed through forces of mechanical necessity, or (c) random polymer strings. In so doing, they identified a very familiar concept — at least to those of us with hardware or software engineering design and development or troubleshooting experience and knowledge. Furthermore, on massive experience, such CSI reliably points to intelligent design when we see it in cases where we independently know the origin story. More.

Here are some suggested resources:

Bill Dembski: Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence

Kirk K Durston et al. Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins

Winston Ewert at Evolutionary Informatics

Robert M. Hazen et al. Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity (public access) A friend notes, “Functional information, as outlined by Hazen et al., can be a measure of specified complexity, where the specificity supplies the functional constraint.”

Robert M. Hazen et al. Functional Information and the Emergence of Biocomplexity pdf (book)

Note: Another term used around here is irreducible complexity:

Irreducible Complexity, IC — A system performing a given basic function is irreducibly complex if it includes a set of well-matched, mutually interacting, nonarbitrarily individuated parts such that each part in the set is indispensable to maintaining the system’s basic, and therefore original, function. The set of these indispensable parts is known as the irreducible core of the system. (Dembski, No Free Lunch, p. 285

See also: Could a signature of specified complexity help us find alien life?

or

A Tutorial on Specified Complexity

44 Replies to “How can we measure specified complexity?

  1. 1
  2. 2
    EricMH says:

    I own a copy of Evolutionary Informatics and I highly recommend it for clarity.

  3. 3
    rvb8 says:

    EricMH @ 2,

    clarity? What the hell is UPB? A quick search gives me;

    1) Uninon of Poles in Belarus.
    2) Unique Percieved Benefit.
    3) Universal Powerline Bus.
    4) University of Paderborn.
    5) University of Pittesburgh at Bradford.
    6) University of POLITEHNICA at Bucharest. etc

    In fact UPB brings up many things except Universal Probability Bounds. Why is this?

    Is it perhaps because it is jargon? Made up? Unknown outside the bounds of the ID community?

    Much like Specified Complexity, UPB appears to be Mumbo Jumbo, for a ‘specified’ audience.

    The ‘neologisms’ of ID are well known, and weak, keep at it. If enough muck is flung, something may indeed stick.

  4. 4

    Massively Complex Synchronicity (MCS).

    How’s that for jargon? But it accurately describes the human body in terms of its many, many interrelated and necessary parts. For most of us, our eyes fog over when trying to follow the technical language of micro-biology such as satb1 & satb2, probability arguments etc.

    But we can easily understand ‘irreducible complexity’ or ‘specified complexity’ when brought up to the level of body parts such as organs, limbs, bones, muscles etc.

    We see, for example, the designed functionality of jointed and muscled arms when we simply reach down to pick up a small child, or watching a perfectly executed double play in baseball. If we think of these things called arms and legs as levers created to accomplish a variety of work functions, it is much easier for the layman to grasp the design argument rather than trying to visualize a very long ‘deep time’ scenario as to how an arm or leg may have developed from the fin of a fish or whale.

    And we all have, or will, experience the pain and suffering when an integral and necessary part of our body begins to fail. Those who have had heart attacks for example, realize very personally, the part the heart plays in this thing called ‘irreducible complexity.’

    Arguing the merits or demerits of concepts such as ‘irreducible complexity’ at the cellular level is interesting, but at that level it is easy to hide behind the technical training and education needed to explain in kindergarten language, that which applies equally well at the higher level of body parts and organs.

    So this so called Mumbo Jumbo jargon has real minute by minute meaning when I apply it to my own body.

  5. 5
    rvb8 says:

    Don @4,

    Mildly Unassuming Complex Kineticisim, or MUCK.

    Defined broadly as (whatever the hell I want), trivial points, supported by obscure persons, living in worlds of their own making.

    The ‘kineticisim’, refers to the percieved movement (apparent progress) of said organisation, a kind of warped reality that exists in their own univese.

    The ‘Mildly Unassuming Complex’, refers to the basic harmlessness of these beliefs; for ‘beliefs’ they are.

    MUCK, is more generally defined as, psudo-language, created to give a veneer of sciencyness.

  6. 6

    rvb8
    Absolutely stunning and deep analysis on your part.
    Guess you’ve never witnessed a double play or watched a skilled skateboarder flow down the sidewalk with ease, thanks in part to those wonderfully designed inner-ear balance mechanisms coupled in systems fashion to the brain, nerves and muscles.

  7. 7
    Bob O'H says:

    rvb8 – UPB is just a very small p-value. It has so many stars they should use a galaxy as a symbol for it.

  8. 8
    rvb8 says:

    Don @6,

    ‘Incredulity’, as an argument needs to be used less here at UD.

    There are only so many times you can gush, about the complexity of physiological systems in the human body before someone says; ‘and now what?’

    At this point ID says; ‘oh nothing, it’s just so breahtakingly complex, isn’t the Designer smashing?’

    Sorry! My curiosity is more evolved than that lazy approach.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    Mung says:

    > ‘Incredulity’, as an argument needs to be used less here at UD.

    Looking forward to seeing you putting that into practice!

  11. 11

    Don@9

    Thanks rvb8 for the added stimulation in thought.

    You see there is more, much more than gushing about the complexity of physiological systems — much more. It’s about following the design intuition in particular phenomena we see in nature and then using the knowledge gained in that exploration to see what, if anything, may be developed in the human sphere to mimic the unfolding design for the hopefully beneficial use in our world.

    For example, it seems most probable that animal navigation and migration has much to do about the animal’s capacity to navigate using the earth’s magnetic fields. And such is the case and scientific research projects are indeed ongoing to develop GPS-like navigational devices, but without the satellites.

    Another example are those who have followed the design intuition to tease out the details of the hearing mechanism of the inner ear and have developed the Cochlear Implant.

    Then there is the ongoing research into the design of DNA and how it can be used to store and retrieve massive amounts of information. This would not be possible without an understanding of the design of DNA.

    Then there are the 81 articles by Dr. Howard Glicksman detailing the many designs extant in the human body allowing it to function in a wide variety of purposeful ways — this is where the double play imagery comes into play. You can brouse through his articles at –
    https://evolutionnews.org/2017/03/designed-body-engineered-system-displaying-irreducible-complexity-steroids/
    This detailed knowledge of how various parts and functions of the body operate brings healing and comfort to many in the form of the medical profession.

    Pray tell, how did your curiosity evolve? How did your intellect evolve to the point where you and I can debate these things?

    And, yes we can look with much admiration and awe at the work of that smashing Designer.

  12. 12

    rvb8:

    It seems you are incapable of seeing and understanding things clearly because your vision is clouded with many years of atheistic/materialistic indoctrination. Much like color blind people are incapable of seeing and enjoying the full range of color in our visual spectrum.

    But you are capable of much more. I suggest you watch this video, and many others like it, to see the possibilities. And don’t reject it without some serious self questioning as to how it may apply to you.

    https://youtu.be/zddFs2i5km4

    Best Regards,
    don

  13. 13
    EricMH says:

    @3 rvb8,I used to be pretty credulous regarding ID, but off the wall criticisms like your own got me interested in the field.

  14. 14
    LocalMinimum says:

    DonJohnsonDD682, rvb8:

    Google DeepMind just learned how to walk; clumsily, idiosyncratically; in a simple simulated environment.

    per Wikipedia:

    DeepMind Technologies’ goal is to “solve intelligence”, which they are trying to achieve by combining “the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms”

    This is all assuming the hardware to walk is all in place, and is simply trying to produce a system that can emulate what any baby can do: learn to walk.

    So, our most sophisticated learning algorithms have yet to fully emulate a basic application of these systems; I doubt they’d confidently turn them against the problem of engineering them from the bottom up. And yet, Darwin stated that something among the simplest and dumbest of learning algorithms, something you’d pass up faster than a bubble sort in general software engineering, did all that work.

    So why did Google spend the money acquiring DeepMind if Darwin had it all figured out more than a century ago? Too obscure?

  15. 15
    ET says:

    rvb8 is a willfully ignorant troll. Just because ID doesn’t care about something doesn’t mean no one can look into it. The designer and the how are just separate questions. But rvb8 is too stupid to understand that simple point. It is also too stupid to understand that his position has all the power and could falsify ID if people who promote it could actually demonstrate it can produce what ID says requires a designer.

    So yes, rvb8, you are lazy as no one is doing any work to validate your position’s grand claims.

  16. 16
    EricMH says:

    On the other hand, insulting rhetoric from ID proponents is also off putting. We shouldn’t feed the trolls, and insults are merely one form of food. In parenting, I’ve learned kids don’t care about what kind of attention they get, so they act out to guarantee at least negative attention.

  17. 17

    ET @ 15: “rvb8 is a willfully ignorant troll.”

    He has some good moments, ET. Most of his comments are mere debunking and some are indeed trollish, but it is good to have him around to get the a/mat perspective…even if it is sometimes annoying.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    Belfast says:

    I was going to tell rvb8 to clear off with his tiresome sarcasm, but I now realise that after he has left the field, tattered and torn, the diffent responses really help me get a more memorable understanding.

  20. 20

    Belfast @19 and others:

    The objective here should not be to leave rvb8 tattered and torn, but rather to provide positive evidence of ID to this debate. This can also include counter arguments to the a/mat world view, but should always be done in a civil manner.

    Folks like rvb8 most likely are so set in their dogmatic and ideological world view that you are unlikely to win arguments that shed evidence and sound logic in favor of emotional insults.

    Be civil!!

  21. 21
    rvb8 says:

    The topic of the piece is, ‘How can we measure specified complexity?’

    Perhaps you can start by explaining what ‘specified complexity’ is? It is a term unknown outside the ID community.

    Once you’ve done that- and no one has yet, beyond the vaguest of efforts- you can then give us a solid method for detecting it.

    How is it possible that my posts can distract you from the ID hurdle of detecting ‘specified complexity’, or more accurately, ‘design’?

  22. 22

    rvb8 @21 — good comments and challenges. Anyone up to responding to his/her remarks? But understand it will continue to be a ping-pong game.

    His remark “It is a term unknown outside the ID community.” I see as quite an indictment of the a/mat world view. If you search the sites of a few of the more prominent materialists such as Coyne, Dawkins, that recently retired Canadian professor (can’t remember the name) for discussion on topics such as machines in cells, kinesin motor, you will find scant discussion, mostly of a negative dismissive nature.

    It’s as if they are stuck in the science of many decades past, unable and unwilling to acknowledge the science that operates quietly but effectively under the umbrella of ID, but dare not mention that phrase.

    My own view of it can be seen at:

    https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/atheism/
    And remember — the goal of the friends of ID here is to speak to the wide range of on-lookers who may not choose to comment. We should not expend excess energy on converting rvb8.

  23. 23
    rvb8 says:

    Don @22,

    your non-answer is interesting- still don’t know what Spec Complex is. You suggest that the scientists working in universities, government and private laboratories world wide are already using ID paradigms, they just won’t admit it?

    Hmmm, interesting. Is that like the Born Again Christian who tells me there are no ateists, as they also have a god of sorts.

    Can’t win can we. You are working in the ‘design paradigm’, you just don’t know it, you are religious you just have a different deity.

    I must say however, notwithstanding your objections, that I am indeed an atheist, and these scientists all busilly proving ID, would be highly shocked to learn this. Heh:)

  24. 24
    Mung says:

    rvb8:

    Perhaps you can start by explaining what ‘specified complexity’ is? It is a term unknown outside the ID community.

    Hi Troll!

  25. 25

    rvb8 — of course it is a non-answer. The question has been answered by many on many, many occasions. But you have to come out of the cave to see it.

  26. 26
    rvb8 says:

    So the flgellum is an example of ‘specified complexity’ because there is no way to remove a part without the mechanism failing.

    So if I remove one of the proteins in the flagellum it stops working as a motor, thus proving it is irreducibly complex, which points to measurable ‘specified complexity’?

    This ‘specified complexity’ can also clearly be seen in the irreducible complexity of the immune system, and the blood clotting system?

    If ‘specified complexity’ has been explained clearly and simply hundreds of times here, and at other sites, then a certain question ust be raised.

    If ‘specified complexity’ as seen in an ‘irreducibly complex’ system -blood clotting etc- has been so well documented and explained, why do scientists in universities, and laboratories simly ignore its findings in their work?

    They are breaking down the flagellum into constituent working parts, they are finding immune sytems in other creatures which miss whole series of proteins, but function perfectly well for those creatures.

    It seems that the specified complexity that ID touts is not very specified, and can indeed be ‘reduced’ from an imaginary irreducibility.

    Hi Mung:)

  27. 27

    Complexity at the molecular/cellular level is discussed in the article at http://inference-review.com/ar.....colleagues This by a renowned molecular chemist James Tour.

    Specific complexity and irreducible complexity at the body plan level has been magnificently documented by Dr. Howard Glitsman at:
    https://evolutionnews.org/2017/03/designed-body-engineered-system-displaying-irreducible-complexity-steroids/

  28. 28

    So the flgellum is an example of ‘specified complexity’ because there is no way to remove a part without the mechanism failing.

    facepalm

  29. 29

    rvb8 @ 21 —
    As to what specified complexity’ is — look at the very first line of the OP. And the various references called out in the OP.

    My comment here is more directed to the curious onlookers so as they not be distracted by questions that have answers already given in the main body of the article.

  30. 30
    Mung says:

    facepalm^2

  31. 31
    Mung says:

    rvb8:

    So the flgellum is an example of ‘specified complexity’ because there is no way to remove a part without the mechanism failing.

    Hi Troll!

  32. 32
    ET says:

    rvb8:

    It is a term unknown outside the ID community.

    And yet people outside of the ID community used it before the ID community did! How is that even possible if you are right?

    If ‘specified complexity’ as seen in an ‘irreducibly complex’ system -blood clotting etc- has been so well documented and explained, why do scientists in universities, and laboratories simly ignore its findings in their work?

    Willful ignorance plus the unending hope that they will find a way that blind. mindless processes didit.

    They are breaking down the flagellum into constituent working parts,

    The existence of which they cannot account for.

    they are finding immune sytems in other creatures which miss whole series of proteins, but function perfectly well for those creatures.

    The existence of which they cannot account for.

    Did you have a point?

  33. 33
    scottH says:

    “Living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; mixtures of random polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity”. [ L.E. Orgel, 1973. The Origins of Life. New York: John Wiley, p. 189.

    Leslie Orgel is not a part of the ID community RVB8. Are you actually interested in honest dialog?
    It’s much easier (cowardly) to say foolish things hidden behind a computer screen. I suppose you probably would not say such obviously ignorant things face to face. Learn some actual biology.

  34. 34
    EricMH says:

    @21 rvb8, you are right the term is perhaps not widely used, but I remember Dembski citing a couple pre-ID uses of the term.

    At any rate, that’s besides the point, since the concept is widely used, and is the premise behind algorithmic probability. For example, here is P.S. Laplace (1749-1827) using Dembski’s coin example:

    “We arrange in our thoughts all possible events in various classes; and we regard as extraordinary those classes which include a very small number. In the game of heads and tails, if heads comes up a hundred times in a row then this appears to us extraordinary, because the almost infinite number of combinations that can arise in a hundred throws are divided into regular sequences, or those in which we observe a rule that is easy to grasp, and in irregular sequences, that are incomparably more numerous.”

    Kolmogorov formalized Laplace’s observation with the idea that an incompressible bitstring is random.

    Dembski didn’t originate anything new besides terminology.

  35. 35
    Erasmus Wiffball says:

    EricMH: I own a copy of Evolutionary Informatics and I highly recommend it for clarity.

    Then you are clear on the history of the Law of Conservation of Information, beginning with Dembski’s publication of it in 1997, and continuing with Dembski’s proof of it in No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence (2002) — right?

    Specified complexity is a conserved quantity — right?

    Specified complexity is a reliable marker of intelligent design — right?

    An object that is statistically improbable in a direction specified not with hindsight alone is high in specified complexity — right?

    The book acknowledges that Dawkins was the source of some of Dembski’s ideas, just as Dembski acknowledged in an interview with The Best Schools — right?

    By the way, how much did you pay for the copy you own?

  36. 36
    Mung says:

    Welcome back to UD Erasmus. 🙂

  37. 37
    EricMH says:

    Yes, don’t you think the book is good at applying Dembski’s idea to computer simulations of evolution? Each time the authors are able to show that the information produced by the simulations are directly attributable to the programmers, not the simulations.

    I received a free copy.

  38. 38
    Erasmus Wiffball says:

    Mung: Won’t be for long. I’m a sucker for a good specified-complexity story.

  39. 39
    Erasmus Wiffball says:

    EricMH: Yes, don’t you think the book is good at applying Dembski’s idea to computer simulations of evolution? Each time the authors are able to show that the information produced by the simulations are directly attributable to the programmers, not the simulations.

    Excellent pivot. You’ll go far, if you manage to keep your nose cleaner than your predecessor did. However, your willingness to switch silently from specified complexity to active information, and refer nebulously to “Dembski’s idea,” is not exactly a sign of academic integrity.

    Since you’ve acknowledged that you got your book for free, perhaps we could talk about your education. Is your benefactor Ide Trotter, by any chance?

  40. 40
    EricMH says:

    The book discusses algorithmic specified complexity, which is Dr. Ewert’s implementation of CSI in a computational domain. His IEEE paper on applying ASC to the game of life is very good.

    If you are interested in Dembski COI, you should check out Dr. Marks’ book, too.

    No idea who Ide Trotter is, seems to be a university administrator.

  41. 41
    Mung says:

    Ide Trotter is the cousin of Bea Gish.

  42. 42
    Erasmus Wiffball says:

    EricMH: The book discusses algorithmic specified complexity, which is Dr. Ewert’s implementation of CSI in a computational domain. His IEEE paper on applying ASC to the game of life is very good.

    If you are interested in Dembski COI, you should check out Dr. Marks’ book, too.

    In my last response, I assumed that you were clever. Now I see that you’re highly confused, and unworthy of any further response from me.

    To whomever it was that donated about $250 thousand to the Center for Evolutionary Informatics (I guess the financier Ide Trotter because his endorsement of the book Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics came out of the blue), I say that you’ve made a very bad investment — unless, of course, you are deeply gratified by sending befuddled YECs to an “apostate” Christian institution.

  43. 43
    EricMH says:

    @Mung, I’ve received the book you recommended. Upon a brief skim, it appears to state that only low evidence supports macroevolution, whereas high evidence suggests the probability chimpanzees evolved into humans is miniscule. So, I’m not sure what you meant when you said it offered evidence of evolution. It appears the high confidence evidence discredits the low confidence evidence.

  44. 44
    Mung says:

    The claim that is refuted is that there is no evidence for evolution. Can I trust now that you’ll not repeat that false claim?

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