I’m generally happy to answer questions from anyone, if I think they’re interesting enough. Recently the following seven questions were brought to my attention. I thought they merited a response, so here goes. The answers given below are my own; readers are free to disagree if they wish.
1. Does a spider web, a bee hive, a mole burrow, a bird nest, a termite mound, or a beaver dam have “biological function”, and do they have “information”?
All of the above structures combine the characteristics of high probabilistic complexity (i.e. it is difficult for natural processes lacking foresight to generate them) and low descriptive complexity (i.e. they are easy to describe in a few words). Hence they all contain complex specified information (CSI). Insofar as they are useful to the creatures that make them, they could also be said to have a function. However, I wouldn’t say that these structures have a “biological function.” Biological function, properly speaking, belongs to organs or systems inside an organism’s body, which enable the organism to perform some useful task.
2. Does a tool that is made and used by a bird, a chimpanzee, other non-human primates, any other organism that isn’t human, or a human, have “information”, and does it have “biological function”.
Complex specified information, yes. Biological function, no.
3. Does the organism understand and/or generate information when building a nest, web, hive, dam, etc.?
The organism certainly generates complex specified information when building these structures. Does it understand this information? No. It cannot explain and justify its actions. It cannot say why it built these structures this way and not that way, so I’d say it lacks understanding.
4. Does the organism understand and/or generate information when making and using a tool?
Same as for question 3.
5. Apply the same questions to an organism, such as a bird, a non-human primate, or a human, but substitute tools that are not made by the organism. For instance, natural objects that the organism doesn’t modify, but does select and use as a tool.
Owing to their specificity and suitability for a particular job, these natural objects contain a certain amount of complex specified information (in most cases, a small amount). However, no new information is generated here.
6. If there’s information in any of the things I mentioned above (web, hive, dam, nest, tool, etc.) is it “functional complex specified information”?
No. None of the structures in questions 1 to 5 exhibit functional complex specified information, because they are not patterns embodied in structures that enable the structures to perform some function or useful task. Functional complex specified information can on the other hand be ascribed to systems in an organism’s body that are biologically useful.
And one more question:
7. When a cephalopod changes its shape, texture, or colors, does it understand and/or generate information (is it functional complex specified information?), and does that change of shape, texture, or colors have biological function?
I’d say this is a genuine case of functional complex specified information. The patterns are inside the organism, and they enable it to perform a biologically useful task.