Casey Defines “Complex and Specified Information”

This is about a very important concept. Well, it’s important to the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

The Discoveroids’ post is Can We Scientifically Determine if a Complex Event is Specified?, and it’s by Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist. He’s a Curmudgeon fellow and a follower of the Knights of Uranus. Casey says, with bold font added by us and his links omitted:

Intelligent-design theorists have long argued that finding complex and specified information (CSI) is the best way to reliably detect intelligent design in nature.

You have to pay attention, dear reader, because CSI is one of the pillars of the Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design. This next excerpt is absolutely vital:

Complexity measures the unlikelihood of an event. Specification claims that the event matches some independent pattern.

Complexity measures unlikelihood? Big whoop! As we’ve pointed out many times before, everything is unlikely. See our three-part series beginning here: The Inevitability of Evolution (Part I). Casey doesn’t talk much about “complexity,” so from now on we’ll focus on “specification.” Let’s read on:

Recently a correspondent wrote to ask whether we can scientifically conclude that a complex [unlikely] event is in fact specified.

A fair question. How do we know that an unlikely event is specified — that is, “matches some independent pattern”? Casey continues:

I responded that objections to the “specification” part of CSI have been raised for many years, but that I think William Dembski has answered them forcefully and convincingly in The Design Inference and elsewhere.

Oh boy, William Dembski. We’ve posted about him a time or two — for example, see Intelligent Design’s Brief Shining Moment, and also Dembski’s Creationist Revival Meeting.

We’ll skip all the Dembski quotes (Casey includes several) and just stick with Casey’s explanation of CSI. This, presumably, is Casey’s description of what Dembski wrote:

If you shoot an arrow at a target, it will hit a certain point. Your hitting that precise point is in itself an unlikely event. Is that enough to infer design? It depends. If you draw the bull’s eye around the target after you hit the event, then probably not. But Dembski points out that if you drew the target before shooting the arrow, and then hit the target, then there’s a specification worthy of a design inference. So not all specifications will do.

Did you follow that, dear reader? There wasn’t all that much to follow, was there? Anyway, moving along, Casey says:

For example, in cosmology the required specification is an objectively understandable configuration of the physical laws and constants of the universe. Not just any improbable configuration will do. You need one that allows life to exist. The vast vast majority of configurations don’t yield any or all of the following: matter, heavy elements, molecules, galaxies, stars, solar systems, habitable planets, or even elements like carbon. So it’s not hard to understand the specification required for cosmic design: you need a configuration that produces a life-friendly universe. Thus, the laws of the universe exhibit high CSI.

Ah, the fine tuning argument. We’ve discussed that a few times, and as you probably know, we’re not impressed. See Common Creationist Claims Confuted.

In this next excerpt, Casey explains “specification” — the claim that something matches some independent pattern:

In biology, specification is also easy to understand. The relevant specification in biology is functionality. Folks on both sides of the evolution debate marvel at how biological features are tightly specified to match what is required for functionality. This is not controversial.

Nor is it surprising. Non-functional organisms don’t hang around very long, so the Earth is populated entirely by functional creatures. On with the article:

The fact that it takes agents with relevant background knowledge to discern the specification required for functionality is not a problem in this or most other relevant situations.

Does it really? We thought it only required only mutations and natural selection. Skipping some Dembski material, Casey solemnly informs us:

So specification is related to biological functionality, allowing an organism to survive and reproduce.

Where does that leave us? If something exists, it’s improbable, and that’s the CSI factor of “complexity.” And if it’s alive, then it’s functional, which is the CSI factor of “specification.” Thus, if we read Casey correctly, everything alive exhibits CSI.

The rest of Casey’s post is blather, so this is a good place to stop. But we can’t end this without a summary. What have we learned about CSI, class? We’ll let you answer in the comments.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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19 responses to “Casey Defines “Complex and Specified Information”

  1. This is the quote that irks me:

    Folks on both sides of the evolution debate

    As if there are two sides, and that their whole ID / creationism scam is equivalent to actual science. I know. I shouldn’t get annoyed; that just motivates them even more. But still…

  2. docbill1351

    Luskin is a liar. Dog bites man. Film at 11.

    Dembski hasn’t answered anything “forcefully and convincingly” least of all CSI which is demolished here for example and Google has many others, even from philosophers (Dembski’s field of “expertise”) friendly to ID, for example these guys.

    Luskin knows all this but he deliberately sits out there trying to pretend he doesn’t. That’s called lying, but, hey, it’s what he’s paid to do. Gerbil gotta earn a penny somehow. Cedar shavings ain’t cheap, you know.

    But, consider Casey’s other stupid argument that the Universe is designed for life. Well, nuh-uh it ain’t if you’re a-meaning life like us. Someone else can calculate this because it’s about as improbable as improbable gets. The diameter of the known Universe is something like 43 billion light years, and there are other numbers out there for different kinds of estimates but 43 will do. And “we” the collective Life on Earth reside on a thin layer on the surface of a spherish sphere with a diameter of 12 thousand miles. I will leave it to the student to figure out what fraction of the Universe we occupy and decide if that’s freaking improbable enough.

    Yeah, Gerb, well your spinning exercise wheel in your cage-office is, hopefully, fine tuned, you little rat. Oh, dear me, did I just insult a creationist? How crass of moi !

  3. Thanks for pointing out the problem with this garbage from yet another angle. CSI may not prove anything about design in nature, but it is such an egregious Cartesian circle that it does prove two other things. 1) these guys are acutely aware that they need to cover up the middle in their “Designed objects are complex, Biological objects are complex, therefore Biological objects are Designed objects” argument – which is really their only positive argument. 2) these guys are lying, ’cause they aren’t that stupid.

  4. @keithnoback: I just left a comment on your blogsite. Nice blog. Great pics! And I think you’re nuts! (But in a good way…)

  5. They are drawing their bullseye around the target. They have predicted no new designs found in nature. Only pointed to what is out there and made bogus estimates of how improbable it might be.

  6. What I’ve learned today. Casey is even creepier and more willing to throw refuse on mankind than I thought. The “article” is not even classifiable as bad pornography. Pitiful and very ill Casey. Evolution debate? In your dreams sweet pea.

  7. Doctor Stochastic

    Luskin hasn’t read his Stabledon; perhaps “The Star Maker” would be appropriate.

    Of course, the IDistas have still avoided the problem of showing that IF (and that’s a big IF) “adjective of choice” complexity exists, it cannot obtain through a Darwinian mechanism (mutation and selection.)

  8. So he might be right if a baby is born with a built in IPhone. Until then…..

  9. Ceteris Paribus

    Casey says: “So specification is related to biological functionality, allowing an organism to survive and reproduce.”

    To which one could respond “so what?” Survival of an occasional lucky organism to the point at which it can reproduce is trivial. It’s no different than a bad poker player starting out with a big enough stack of chips to win a hand occasionally.

    What counts is what happens over time when one set of organisms reproduces faster than some other set of organisms competing in the same pool of scarce resources. Which is what natural selection is all about.

    Casey can’t refute the process of evolution with a simple appeal to design, or good luck.

  10. Gary: “As if there are two sides.”

    If you ignore the 99% of the public that we call the “rank and file,” there are 2 sides, separated by light years wherever one chooses to “demarcate” science from pseudoscience. One side defends science, and what little fraud and error they commit are corrected from within. IOW they defend a process that works. The other side promotes unreasonable doubt to the rank and file by any means possible. They cherry pick evidence, bait-and-switch definitions and concepts, quote mine, and still can only come up with all sorts of mutually contradictory, easily falsified nonexplanations, and an increasingly deliberate cover-up that throws out whatever will “stick.” So “Darwinism” is dead, dying, falsified, unfalsifiable, and most importantly the root of all evil.

    With the rank and file, however, there’s a continuum of beliefs.

    To show how pathetic anti-evolution activism is, particularly the “big tent” ID scam: It’s 2012, and they need a lawyer to define CSI – a decade after their chief mathematician tried, and was told by another mathematician, one who actually works in that area of math, that his words were “written in Jello.”

  11. Whenever I see an argument against evolution, I check whether it is at least as much an argument against reproduction. Replace “species” (or “kind”) with “individual”. In this case, check whether individuals (you, me, or the Queen of England) are specified. If so, are we designed, and if we are designed, does that mean that reproductive biology is wrong?

  12. I shot an arrow aimed high and wide,
    where it fell is not specified;
    but just just to claim Design is fair,
    I think I’ll paint my target there.

  13. The idea of CSI is simply Paley’s argument dressed up in a lab coat rented from a costume shop.

    All three terms – “complexity, specified, and information” are subjective, and are defined by ID advocates in whatever way is useful to support the argument they are making at the moment.

    Casey doesn’t say, but should, is that ID requires the a priori assumption that a designer exists, and that we and all other life forms on earth are intentional. The DI’s argument that they are they are discovering evidence of a designer and the intentionality of his design via CSI is simply a con game.

  14. What a scientific advance.

  15. Tomato Addict,,hilarious..!!
    Heres mine,but not as good.

    Little Casey was a creo,
    Little Casey is no more,
    If natural selection was H2O,
    Casey logic is H2 SO4

  16. Let us suppose that there is such a thing as “complex, specified information”. Following the leads given by the advocates of Intelligent Design, it seems that there are things which do not exist, or which are even impossible, which exhibit complex, specified information. Things like shmoos, flying carpets, and “Penrose triangles”. This means that complex, specified information and intelligent design are not sufficient to account for existence. CSI&ID are not adequate explanations for the existence of something.

  17. Thanks Will. I’m not sure how a double-just got in there, but I blame coffee deficiency.

    @TomS: But but but {sputter} now you are conflating CSI & ID theory with the Theory of Origins. No fair!

  18. @Tomato Addict:

    Translation: Hey! They can’t do that to our pledges! Only we can do that to our pledges! ;-)

  19. Luskin: “Thank you Sir. May I have another?”

    {*SMACK*} Luskin: “Thank you Sir. May I have another?”

    {*SMACK*}