• Complex Specified Information and Intelligent Design

    I’ve been having a very interesting conversation with some fellows over at After the Bar Closes (the Panda’s Thumb forums).  This guy, Jerry, is big into the concept of Complex Specified Information (CSI).  So, I’ve gleaned some information from him, which I will post here and then deconstruct it and show, why he (and ID) is utterly wrong.  This has been done before, but not here and not by me.

    So, here’s the concept of CSI, in a nutshell.  If the probability of something happening is greater than 1:10150 then it’s too improbable for it to come about by chance and therefore it was designed.  Since there are thousands of proteins in the most organisms, then organisms must be designed because there are many components (proteins, RNAs, DNAs, etc) that go into an organism.

    For example, according to ID proponents, a human protein may have 51 amino acids (like insulin).  Since there are 20 possible amino acids, then the probability of that protein randomly forming is 1:2.2×1066 which is well below 1:10150 so that means that insulin was not designed… or something.

    Anyway, it should be pretty obvious that there are a number of major problems with this notion of CSI.

    The first is that the ID proponents are saying that either something (protein, organism, rock, whatever) is randomly constructed or it is designed.  This is the same false dichotomy that has been used by creationists since the Henry Morris days.  In fact, the Edwards trial was pretty much trying to disprove evolution with the hope that it would mean creation science was right.

    This, however, is wrong, there is another possible answer.  That is random mutation, natural selection, and descent with modification.  I bet if one really thought about it, one could come up with a few more notions like this.  So, that right there destroys the entire premise of CSI.

    The ID proponents claim that this whole enterprise is ONLY about detecting design.  However, when presented with a sequence of random proteins and an actual protein sequence, they refuse to try and determine which is which.  Then they claim that my request has nothing to do with actual CSI.

    Second, the ID proponents are assuming that all possible amino acids are equally likely to combine with each other in a sequence.  This is simply not true.  By their very nature amino acids have different chemical affinities. If one does not take all of these variations into account (weighted averages or somesuch), then the value one produces will be utterly meaningless.

    Third, and most importantly, the IDist is assuming that all modern proteins and the living things that they are made from all appeared randomly from a great pile of amino acids.  This, aslo is simply not the case.  In fact, I know of no modern organismal protein that appears in this way.

    How do modern proteins form?  By the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, which is that DNA contains the codes for proteins, which is translated into mRNA and transported through the nuclear membrane to a ribosome, which reads the mRNA strand and uses tRNA to construct a chain of amino acids to form the protein.

    So, CSI is a neat, back of the envelope calculation for how improbable a protein (for example) is to form from a vat of amino acids.  It’s good thing that we don’t actually have to get our proteins that way.

    Category: BiologyCreationismEvolutionGeneticsOrigins of LifeScienceSkepticism


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • lartanner

      One of the issues that’s always boggled me with ID and CSI is what specific, single events are “too improbable”–and in what context (but that’s two issues). Take your “thousands of proteins” example, I really don’t get what particular event is the issue for the ID-ist. It can’t be the sheer quantity of proteins, can it? Is it the diversity, then? Is it the functionalist? I’ve always been looking for them to point to a specific event that we all could see and then tell me THAT could not have been any but the result of intervention by an intelligent agent. I know I must sound dense, but I really would love just a single clear example, like “the woman goes in the room as a brunette and comes out a blonde–some intervention had to have happened in between.” Do you know if the ID camp has any examples as flagrant as this for the scientific layperson (and I’ve missed them)?

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        Honestly, the proponents of ID just make stuff up. What one of them says, another will disagree with. I’ve had a ID proponent use a dictionary definition of aardvark, calculate the probability of those letters combining randomly (in binary), and claim that it’s an example of CSI.

        I’ve heard 3 different figures for the boundary of design/not-design and they differ by 158 orders of magnitude.

        Finally, I’ve been ‘discussing’ these things with them for almost 4 years and this is the first time that I’ve gotten anything as good as this. This concept is actually calculable, it’s fundamentally flawed, but it’s calculable. Another ID proponent has claimed that the amount of information in a cake is the amount of information in the recipe.

        There’s another flaw that I missed. That of the required combination. If I said that I wanted an oxygen atom to chemically react with two specific hydrogen atoms in the universe, then that would massively improbable. But if I said that any two hydrogen atoms will do, then the probability goes from massively improbable to approaching a 100% chance.

        Another point that I’ve tried to talk to them about is the very subtle mutation. For example, sickle cell anemia is caused by a single point mutation in one protein. The odds of that happening are pretty astronomical. But, then we must consider how many people have every lived, how many mutations does the average person have, what are the environmental factors that would support such a mutation, etc.

        Since the IDest rejects all the stuff that science knows to be true, then they can’t even see the depth of their problem. Using evolutionary principles, the problem is easily solved. All it takes is one mutation in an environment that has malaria for the advantages of the sickle cell allele to be realized. Of course, in an area without malaria, the sickle cell allele is disadvantageous. But that’s easily handled by evolutionary principles, but not ID.

        I don’t think that answered your questions, but thanks for reminding me to talk about these other things.

        To answer your question. No.

        • tony

          There is no mutation or natural selection you MORON! There is nothing to select from! This is why a simple protein has never formed!! RETARD! There is ZERO chemistry to support it! YOU ARE THE DISHONEST MORON!

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            citation needed