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Part IV - What is "information"?

January 9th, 2006 | 3 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

Many thanks to Radar, a newcomer, for his thoughtful comments and his referencing real research in the areas we are discussing and attempting to shed light on.

Radar, I assume you have encountered a few answers to the question "What exactly is 'information'?" I would invite you to read my quickly-collected thoughts below, and add whatever you might think beneficial.

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Warren's task was as follows: Intelligent Design proponents simply do not define "intelligent." They will also say that there is too much "information" in the genome to have evolved, but cannot define "information."

Having dealt briefly (whether satisfactorily or no) with the term 'intelligent'; I would now like to attempt a definition of "information." It is mere regurgitation of something I have found particularly helpful and challenging in the book Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, which is an impressive, encyclopedic piece of research, covering the history of Christianity, some basic, populuar-level epistomology, and the presuppositions of the currently prevelant philosophy of science.

The argument cited by Warren runs: "information," which is supposedly found in the human genome, cannot be produced from simpler elements to more complex.

His challenge is to define the nebulous term "information."

Pearcey gives for a definition of information, and argues that the above argument is stronger than it might seem. She argues that the above is not an argument from ignorance, but that it is an argument from principle.

Types of Pattern

Now, there are four kinds of pattern.
1. Random selection (from a limited pool).
2. Simple repetition.
3. Cyclic repetition.
4. Information.

Examples of each:

1. ABKQNOKDJQOKGHOCN.

2. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

3. ABCABCABCABCABCABC.

4. THEQUICKBROWNFOXJUMPSOVERTHELAZYDOG.

Sources of Each Type

How do we arrive at each of these?

#1. can be produced by the formula "A or B or C or D or E (on through the 26 possibilities)... plus A or B or C or D or E... plus" and so on, with 17 total additions.

#2. can be produced by the formula "A times 17"

#3. can be produced by the formula "ABC times 6"

#4. can only be produced by the formula "THEQUICKBROWNFOXJUMPSOVERTHELAZYDOG times 1"

A preliminary definition of Information

This fourth kind of pattern is the only one that counts as information, because a) it is meaningful as a whole, and b) its meaning cannot be "built" out of its parts.

While chance can produce random collections of letters (from a given pool), it cannot produce information.
While law can produce simple repetition, it cannot produce information.
While chance plus law can produce limited cyclical repetition, it cannot produce information.

Only a mind can produce information.

There's a preliminary definition, and, again, I invite correction/commentary from Radar or anyone who has studied this subject more thoroughly than I.

Information as such, found in the Human Body

Now, DNA patterns in the human body are more like the 4th kind of pattern (ie Information) than the other two. Certain genetic chains translate into certain tasks when "read" by the appropriate proteins. These chains are not merely two codes with their own "meaning" added to eachother to create a sum of the two meanings. Two independently meaningful codes produce a third meaning that is greater than the sum of its parts. When observed occuring naturally and mindlessly in the human body, this is, well... its kinda eeiry.

Notice that this argument is one from principle, not from ignorance. We are not giving up and saying, "We do not yet know how a complex genome evolved out of simpler ones, so let's call it something else." Rather we are confidently saying, "It is impossible that information arise out of patterns governed by law or chance."

A few more examples:

Random selection, from a pool of 10 arabian numerals (chance) =
65198432491649849546546
654651324935856519894654

Simple Repetition (law) =
;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

Pattern (law plus chance)=
ICANTBELIEVEITSMIDNIGHTICANTBELIEVE
ITSMIDNIGHTICANTBELIVEITSMIDNIGHT.

Information (designed by a person) =
MIDWAYTHISWAYOFLIFEWE'REBOUNDUPON/
IAWOKETOFINDMYSELFINASTRANGEWOOD/
THERIGHTROADWASWHOLLYLOSTANDGONE.

The fourth sentence example had to be created "with the end in mind." It could not, in principle have evolved from a set alphabet of simpler letters, repeating in obedience to any law of repetition or cycle.