Sunday, May 27, 2007

All this CSI...

A central claim for the ID movement is the notion that only intelligence can cause the appearance of CSI (complex specified information) such as that found in a computer program or a Shakespeare play. Biological systems in the absense of intelligence only has the ability to reshuffle already existing information but completely lacks the ability to create new such. I'm not going to argue anything about the validity of the claim that biological systems can't create new information but rather just give a quick note regarding the ability of intelligent agents to themselves to create new information. I think that what I am about to write about applies to just about anything ID proponents claim contains CSI.

Take the example of a Dan Brown book - such as "The Da Vinci code". It contains a lot of CSI. Individual letters of the alphabet are strung together into words which are strung together to make sentences that are found in paragraphs that are themselves found in chapters. All this writing describes a plot comprised of lots of different people, places and riddle-solving. Such a book obviously contains lots of information and we would not expect something non-intelligent to be able to produce such a work. But just how much of the information contained in one of Brown's books is new? If you - like me - have read more than one of his books (I must here admit that I'm not overly fond of his books and only really read them because I was given them as presents. Also I switched off the movie "The Da Vinci code" after roughly 15 minutes. It seemed terrible.) you will know that these are quite similar. "The Da Vinci Code", "Digital Fortress" and "Deception Point" all center around conspiracies and clever people who are good at breaking codes (and do it ad nauseum). It would, therefore, seem that each new Dan Brown book does NOT contain CSI proportional to the size of the book. A lot of the information contained within them has been "borrowed" from his previous work (this goes for most, if not all authors, btw). But even Brown's first work was hardly the 100% original CSI originator of all things. Conspiracies and code breaking featured in the literature long before Brown was even born. The people, places and plotlines outlined in his books have already been written about previously - maybe not explicitly, but at least these are similar enough to previous authors work that should best be described as reshuffling of already existing information. Certainly, Brown did not originate the words in his books - these he would have learned by reading. Again, nothing new. Is there anything in a Dan Brown book that could be classified as truly original - as being new information? Is there anything produced by any author that can be classified as being truly original? Does not every author base his writings on something he has previously learned, i.e. by taking pre-existing CSI and simply reshuffling it? I would like to answer a weak yes to these questions. Or at least a yes that allows for the odd, barely perceptible exception to the rule.

For those who are familiar with the intelligent design vs evolution debate, it is quite clear that whatever objections the ID crowd have against evolution, they really have nothing new to say. It has all already been said. Over and over again. They never produce any new CSI. And if we intelligent beings can't produce CSI, why would it matter what biological systems are capable of in the absense of intelligence?


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