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.
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.
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