UD member Timothy in another thread writes

*But in principle it is possible to arrive at this particular unique combination of symbols using a simple brute force algorithm (like, for example, an elementary counting algorithm) that works through all the possible combinations of symbols. Thus, given such a systematic algorithm, all the books of the world, those written and those yet to be written, are implied by it.*

I thought this was important enough to deserve a thread of its own.

This is not generating new information. It is sifting through existing information looking for something in particular.

A set is defined (all possible combinations of letters and punctuation) that by definition includes the information being sought. A goal is then defined (e.g. the combination of letters in a Shakespearian play). A mechanism is then defined to sift through the set (e.g. a million monkeys with a million typewriters for a million years) looking for something already known to be a member of the set.

Similarly, we already know that in the set of all physically possible combinations of atoms some of those combinations exhibit the properties of life (metabolism and reproduction). The question isn’t whether or not the information exists. The question is whether the sifting mechanism has a reasonable chance of finding the target in the information set where we know it already exists. If given infinite opportunity any sifting mechanism, even a totally random one, will eventually stumble onto the right combination. In the case of the spontaneous generation of life the set is very large and the sifting mechanism (laws of chemistry, physics, and statistical mechanics) doesn’t have infinite opportunity.

Intelligent Design is all about applying statistical mechanics to the laws of chemistry and physics and determining the probability of given patterns emerging from the set of all physically possible patterns. It posits that for some patterns the universe, or some subset of it where the sifting takes place, is not big enough or old enough to have provided enough opportunity for certain patterns to have any reasonable possibility of being formed absent the actions of an intelligent agent (design) in the sifting process. In order to exclude false positives (a design inference where there was no design) the probability bound for a design inference is set very high. Dembski proposes that it be set at one chance 10^150 opportunities. 10^150 is the estimated number of all the elementary particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) in the observable universe. False negatives are still possible (no design inference where design actually took place) given that design can mimic chance.

The scientific or mathematical theory of design detection makes only minimal presumptions about the nature of intelligent agency. It presumes that 1) intelligent agency predating human intelligent agency exists either within (natural) or without (supernatural) the observable universe; 2) the agency is capable of abstract thought; 3) the agency is capable of manipulating matter and energy to turn abstract thought into physical reality. Any presumptions beyond that are philosophical or religious in nature and are the personal views of individuals not the formal presumptions of the scientific theory of design detection.

Please be sure to read the sidebar Definition of Intelligent Design for a more concise defintion of what ID is and is not. Unintelligent (dumb) design theories such as the modern synthesis (neo-Darwinian) don’t presume that intelligent agency doesn’t exist. They make the assertion that intelligent agency is *unnecessary* and then reasonably apply Occam’s Razor to shave it out of the equation. Intelligent design theory differs only in that it asserts that intelligent agency *is* necessary and thus cannot be removed from the equation.

Just as an aside, the “million monkey” proposal is quite inadequate for generating a Shakespearian play. In a like manner many scientists and mathematicians admit that life is unlikely to spontaneously generate in the known universe and propose a theory of infinitely many universes and we just happen to be in one where life spontaneously emerged. This can be restated as: “If a million monkeys aren’t enough then just add more monkeys until there are enough.” I like that. Preposterous, uninvestigable pseudoscience. And these same scientists and mathematicians they say ID is pseudoscience. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…