Progress in an Internet Debate! Who Woulda Thunk it Possible?
Barry asks Ms. Liddle: “If you were to receive a radio signal from outer space that specified the prime numbers between 1 and 100 would you conclude (provisionally pending the discovery a better theory, of course) that the best theory to account for the data is “the signal was designed and sent by an intelligent agent?”
Ms. Liddle responds: “Yes. And I’ve explained why.”
The first part of Ms. Liddle’s response is easy to understand. “Yes.” The second part, not so much, because she had never conceded this point before, I don’t know where she would have explained previously why she conceded it. Nevertheless, we have made progress of a sort.
Ms. Liddle agrees that the best theory to account for the data is “the signal was designed and sent by an intelligent agent?”
The important thing to keep in mind is that when she made her quite correct design inference, Ms. Liddle knew nothing about the provenance of the pattern embedded in the signal. In other words, the only possible basis upon which Ms. Liddle could have made her design inference was the pattern itself — and nothing else.
Let’s examine that claim. Look again at the hypothetical I gave Ms. Liddle. When you do you will see that when Ms. Liddle made her design inference she knew two and only two things: (1) there was a radio signal from outer space; and (2) the radio signal specified the prime numbers between 1 and 100.
Someone might object: “But she knew the sender of the signal could send a radio signal, and she could infer intelligence from that fact alone, quite independently of the pattern embedded in the signal.” Not so, because it is well know that there are “natural” radio transmissions (i.e., radio transmissions that we know are generated by chance and/or mechanical necessity). In other words, the universe is full of natural electromagnetic background radiation, much of which is in the wavelength of radio waves.
From this we must conclude that nature can send radio signals and intelligent agents can send radio signals. Therefore, the mere fact that a radio signal exists cannot be the basis upon which one infers design. Again, the first thing Ms. Liddle knows is “(1) there was a radio signal from outer space.” We have just demonstrated that a design inference simply cannot be predicated on the mere existence of a radio signal from outer space.
If this is true, then the design inference must necessarily be based solely on the only other thing Ms. Liddle knows: “(2) the radio signal specified the prime numbers between 1 and 100.” In other words the design inference is based solely on the existence of the pattern quite apart from any knowledge whatsoever about the designer.
In summary, the issue is not whether radio transmissions in general can be natural or designed. It is common knowledge that they can be one or the other. The issue is whether this particular radio signal was designed. We conclude that it was designed because it contains complex specified information (“CSI”). In other words, it corresponds to a predetermined pattern (i.e., the description of the pattern is highly compressible) and it is complex (i.e., highly improbable).
Let’s examine the claim that the signal contains CSI.
1. It corresponds to a predetermined pattern (i.e., the description of the pattern is highly compressible). In this case we have “prime numbers between 1 and 100.” There can be no doubt that this pattern is not ad hoc. It is an independently determined pattern. The description is also highly compressible (i.e., it takes only six words to describe it).
2. It is complex (i.e., highly improbable). Random dashes and dots from the background radiation might plausibly be used to explain one, two, three or maybe even four or five numbers of the sequence “prime numbers between 1 and 100.” It is simply not reasonable to ascribe the entire set to random dashes and dots. In other words, the sequence is highly improbable and therefore complex.
Conclusion: Ms. Liddle has successfully made a design inference based upon nothing but the existence of CSI embedded in a radio signal. Good for her.