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Batten #6: “Information”

March 20th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 3 Comments

Hat tip to Auke for his transcript.
{ } description of non-verbal events, actions.
[ ] time stamp, minutes:seconds, from Auke’s audio recording.
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Please keep in mind this is a transcript of a live talk, not something Dr Batten thoughtfully and carefully wrote himself.

[28:58] I want to show you why evolution is an impossible process. Here we have a bacterium, and if your going to specify a bacterium, you’d need about one book of information written on the DNA to specify a bacterium, a simplest bacterium, very complex coded information but about one book of information.

But if your going to change a microbe into say a horse or a human, you have to add stacks of information. A horse, how much, well, perhaps a thousand books. Humans? I’ll mention that in a minute.

What do I mean by information, though? Information specifies something.

You see, you look at a pile of sand, and that’s complex. If you’re going to describe that uh pile of sand in detail, it would take an enormous amount of information in the sense of describing the shape and uh position of every sand grain. Now that is complexity. But its not specified complexity, because it doesn’t say anything, it doesn’t specify anything, it doesn’t stand for anything. There’s nothing about the pile of sand which which suggests that its other than a natural thing. Except that its a cone, that might suggest that somebody was responsible for pouring it out <..> in a heap. But other than that, it doesn’t say much at all.

But if you look at a silicon chip, which you make from sand, and you look at the pattern on a computer chip, there’s something about that specifies something which is not intrinsic to silicon. Silicon doesn’t arrange itself into that pattern. It has to be imposed upon it by intelligence. It stands for something which is actually over and above the silicon.

[30:49] You think about language for example. And I know its probably most of you speak Afrikaans I’m afraid my knowledge of Afrikaans is fairly limited. But let’s stick to English.

“She has an automobile” has 21 letters in English, including the spaces. And in Shannon information, which evolutionists like to talk about like Ri-Richard Dawkins, that’s 85 bits and but the specificity or meaning of this sentence is fairly low because and but its even lower if we randomise the letters, So we randomise the letters, we still have 21 letters, we still have 85 bits of Shannon information, but zero specificity, because it means nothings.

Now he trots into a big discussion of Shannon information. Having not yet read books that talk about it in the evolutionary context, I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to prove here… However, he is also wrong. Human language is not a very good metaphor for information. The information referred to, has nothing to do with human meaning. We’re talking a very formal definition of “information” here.

Sticking with the formal definition, “She has an automobile” is information. It is a collection of letters, it can be represented by a particular collection of bits. To describe “aioeho aSuh stenm lba” does require the same amount of “information”, and it is still very specific. It is “aioeho aSuh stenm lba”, after all.

Where he confuses the audience, and is probably confused himself, is with how humans assign meaning to a particular piece of “information”. To the information, the collection of letters “automobile”, we assign the same meaning as to the information “car”. This says more about human language than it does about formal information and the impact of random shuffling.

Now on to the rest of this seemingly meaningless rhetoric:

We can go further and say, “She has a red automobile.” Now we’ve actually added a bit of specificity, haven’t we? Not just an automobile, but it’s a red one. So we’ve increased the specificity, higher specificity, higher meaning, uh Shannon information now 97, well it’s gone up, so it’s the right direction, the number of letters is 24. So the evolutionists have argued, there you are, see Shannon information measures information.

Shannon information, by the way, is it was devised a concept devised to determine uh what was the minimum number of bits required to transmit information electronically. That’s the idea. And uh but if you look at this, “She has a red Porsche” – who’d like to own a red Porsche? Ah, the’re only a few, uhm, you have 21 letters, same as up here, but you have a lot more information, because you specified its red and you specified which what sort of automobile, so its the highest amount of information, but its still the same Shannon information. See, Shannon doesn’t measure actual specificity of complex complex information at all, of specified complexity.

And “She has a car” that’s actually less letters than here, 13, less Shannon information, but it actually is the same amount of information as the first sentence here. So in fact Shannon information doesn’t measure information, so don’t let people fool you with that.

What we’re talking about is specificity, the more specificity, the more information there is. Well, how much information in the human DNA because the human DNA DNA specifies the order of the amino acids on the proteins. And not only that, it specifies the sequence of events during embryo development, and much else that we’re yet to discover. We have the equivalent by the way information is independent of the carrier or the medium, so you can write information on paper, you can write it in CD, you can write it on a flash drive, there are all sorts of ways in which you can store information, it’s independent of the medium. Like you can take the DNA information, you can store it electronically, you can store it in books, uh, its information, independent of the medium, there’s nothing about the DNA that assembles itself into information, its independent of the DNA, uh the chemistry of it.

He is still incorrectly referring to the functional value of particular sequences in DNA as “information”. The functional value of DNA is very directly connected to the information they contain, whereas the way we assign meaning to words is much more loose, more arbitrary. The metaphor would be suggesting that there exists a protein defined by a longer DNA sequence (automobile), that can be functionally identical to a protein that’s a third as long (car). Even if you could find proteins that serve similar functions (or enzymes, e.g. simpler or more complex ATP synthase), they are still not functionally identical. They still do not contain the same information. In particular, they do not have the same mutating potential…

(The whole idea of comparing the usefulness of a particular gene sequence to human language, is preposterous.)

[33:51] Uhm, How much information in a human? We’re talking about a thousand books, a wonderful achievement of modern science to decode the human DNA. Well how do we get from one book in a bacterium, to a thousand books in a human? Well they say the mutations created all the new information.


As I understand it, for formal definitions of information, a mutation does indeed create new information. This “new information” is not necessarily useful though. It is the process of natural selection that filters out the useful information from the worthless information. Or in Batten’s terminology, I suppose you could say it is natural selection that selects for “specificity”.

Typical creationist tactics separate mutation and natural selection, while the pair form an “irreducibly complex” system in the context of evolution. By breaking them apart, creationists deceive their audience with a straw man misrepresentation of evolution.

What are they? They’re copying mistakes when you copy the information from one generation to the next. Now you’d expect copying mistakes to actually wreck the information, that’s what they do. In fact, here’s an example of a mutant, a TNR mutant, this is very technical, for you art students, its “totally naked rooster” {laughter} A mutation in the information to make the feathers results in a rooster that can’t make feathers. Now mutations are good at doing that sort of stuff. In fact there’s a whole there’s a website devoted to the mutations that cause human disease. There are over ten thousand mutations that are known to cause human disease, things like cystic fibrosis, and haemophilia, and stacks of others. Mutations cause disease. They wreck the information. Now, evolution doesn’t need mutations to wreck things, it needs mutations to create things, to add 999 books of information to a bacterium to make it into a human. But mutations don’t create that sort of information, they wreck it. Sometimes, they are beneficial, but they wreck the information.

Now what does “wrecking information” mean? This demonstrates what happens when you use and think with incorrect metaphors. Yes, the majority of mutations may be harmful, but Dr Batten agrees that there are beneficial mutations. So how do beneficial mutations “wreck” the information? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s illogical and preposterous. ;) And again, these beneficial mutations are selected for through the process of natural selection.

Categories: Religion and Science

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Johan Swarts // Mar 21, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Heel van die punt af: waar het jy webspace gekoop? Wat kos dit jou? Hoe het jy gemaak om ‘n domainname te kry?

    Me wants onez0rz :-)

  • 2 Do Any Shofarians Care About Science? // Apr 19, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    [...] Batten #6: “Information” [...]

  • 3 Steve // Nov 23, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Just a point that would help with the information theory bit: the reason you can say “She has a red Porsche” and transmit more information than the longer “She has a red automobile” is because the receiver of the message already has the information “A Porsche is a specific kind of automobile”. And when you’re talking about transmission of information, it’s common to talk about the shortest possible message to transmit the information to someone with a _given_ state of information. (Then we talk about relative entropy).

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