You know about the Discovery Institute’s claim that the universe is comprised of some kind of supernatural pixie-dust they call “information,” about which we wrote Phlogiston, Vitalism, and Information.
Despite the intentional similarity in terminology, the magical phenomenon the Discoveroids call information has nothing to do with information theory, which Wikipedia says is “considered to have been founded in 1948 by Claude Shannon.” No one can detect Discoveroid information with the instruments of science, yet they claim they can somehow sense its presence by using William Dembski’s Design Inference, commonly called his Design Filter. We wrote about it here: The Discoveroids and Their Magic Filter.
As the Discoveroid dogma has evolved, it appears that the principal function of their intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is to make things complicated. To do that he adds the mystical ingredient of information. They say it’s not matter, not energy, not anything you know. It’s information! And it’s a big deal. It permeates the entire universe. It’s in your DNA. And only the Discoveroids can detect its presence.
But they’ve just received — or misappropriated — a big gift, thanks to some unfortunate language in a paper published in PLOS Biology, a peer-reviewd journal. The article is sensibly titled: An Estimate of the Total DNA in the Biosphere. You can read it online without a subscription. The abstract says:
Modern whole-organism genome analysis, in combination with biomass estimates, allows us to estimate a lower bound on the total information content in the biosphere: 5.3 × 1031 (±3.6 × 1031) megabases (Mb) of DNA. Given conservative estimates regarding DNA transcription rates, this information content suggests biosphere processing speeds exceeding yottaNOPS values (1024 Nucleotide Operations Per Second). Although prokaryotes evolved at least 3 billion years before plants and animals, we find that the information content of prokaryotes is similar to plants and animals at the present day. This information-based approach offers a new way to quantify anthropogenic and natural processes in the biosphere and its information diversity over time.
Note that they refer to “anthropogenic and natural processes.” That seems to refer to both man-caused and naturally occurring complexity. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
The Discoveroids have seized upon the paper’s use of the word “information” to claim that it’s about their designer’s magic pixie-dust. This new article appears at their creationist blog, without a byline: Earth’s Biosphere Is Awash in Information. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
Visualize an exoplanet far away: dynamic, comfortable, yet lifeless. It has water, plate tectonics, volcanoes, an atmosphere and all the ingredients for life — but no life. What would be the primary factor distinguishing it from Earth? A new paper in PLOS Biology suggests that its chief drawback, all things being equal, would be a lack of complex specified information.
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! No, the paper doesn’t “suggest” anything about what the Discoveroids call specified complexity. Wikipedia says:
Specified complexity is what Dembski terms an “explanatory filter” which can recognize design by detecting “complex specified information” (CSI).
Let’s read on in the Discoveroid blog post:
As a side note, they never explain their odd distinction between “natural” and “anthropomorphic” (are humans not natural?). Their last sentence just says, “This approach may help us understand the changing complexity of the biosphere over time and to predict in new ways, both anthropogenic and natural, future changes in the biosphere.” Apparently even typical astrobiologists have an intuitive sense of human exceptionalism.
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! No, as we read it, the paper implies that other than human-caused complexity, all the rest occurs naturally — i.e., without our intervention. The Discoveroids then proceed to weave their own dogma into the published paper’s statements, but their efforts are so contrived and tortured that we’re going to skip most of it. Here’s another excerpt:
The rest of the paper discusses how the researchers arrived at their numbers and how the values might have varied over time. (They estimated that the information content in prokaryotes, the simplest organisms, is similar to that of higher organisms — within two orders of magnitude, which they found surprising.) They also include caveats about assumptions and uncertainties in their measurements and offer suggestions for answering future questions. The whole paper is very interesting.
It’s particularly interesting because the paper is talking about something real and identifiable. It says: “In calculating the total amount of DNA, we are assuming that every base pair is a unique piece of information.” That’s totally unlike the Discoveroids’ pixie-dust information which they’ve never even attempted to quantify, or meaningfully define. They continue:
But the damage is done. Even if their estimates need to be revised by a terabase or two some day, they have made it clear that our biosphere is awash in information.
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, the biosphere is “awash in information” (DNA base pairs) but that’s not the Discoveroids’ magical version of information. Here’s one final excerpt:
Though clearly evolutionists, they have presented a significant challenge to scientific materialism to account for all this processing power. Simultaneously, they demonstrate the fruitfulness of an information-based approach to the investigation of life.
So there you are. A published paper that merely estimates the amount of information contained in the world’s DNA has been transformed by the Discoveroids into confirmation of their own kind of magic information, which is created only by their supernatural designer. In the future, they’ll probably include the PLOS Biology paper in their listing of peer-reviewed papers that support their “theory” of intelligent design.
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