A meme about Morpheus

Morpheus meme

The old argument from incredulity (or argument from ignorance) is still a favorite in the young-earth creationist community.

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  • The Argument from Incredulity is a staple in YECism.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “How could all this come about from random, chance processes? It makes so much more sense to believe that God created it just as it says in Genesis.”

    I know someone who says she does not believe in evolution because, “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

    • They don’t understand how gravity works either, but guess what? It still works!

      • So, evolution must have happened, because here we are?

        • Matthew Funke

          No — only that it is possible to determine that something is true without knowing the mechanism behind it. Knowing the mechanism gives us more things to check and experiments to try, but ultimately, one can determine whether or not a given explanation is consistent with the evidence we see without it.

          Thankfully, with evolution, we have several mechanisms. Things have progressed to the point where whether or not evolution is true is no longer really in doubt; the debate is mostly about the relative importance of the various processes that drive it.

    • When someone poses a question, it does not mean they don’t know the answer. I have yet to meet someone that considers themselves a Creationist that would stop with a platitude rather than some sort of evidence. DNA and RNA are programs. There is no evidence for random chance writing a complex program, but rather when you see this type of complexity outside of “nature” you would come to the conclusion that an intelligence designed it. Coded information is a mental construct.

      • Matthew Funke

        There is no evidence for random chance writing a complex program

        That’s not true at all. I advise you to look into so-called “genetic algorithms”. (Guess where they derive their functionality!)

        Random chance constrained by a selection mechanism is a powerful problem-solving tool.

        when you see this type of complexity outside of “nature” you would come to the conclusion that an intelligence designed it.

        Well, if it’s outside “nature”, then of course it’s designed. Those two categories — natural and artificial — pretty much cover everything in the universe, and everything that’s not “natural” — i.e., things that are “artificial” — are designed, by definition. (Hint: “Art”, “artifice”, and “artificial” all share the same root.)

        But complexity alone is not a good indication of design. Otherwise, we might conclude that snowflakes are more “designed” than rocks.

        Coded information is a mental construct.

        Sure it is, if the information can be decoupled from the thing the information is about. For example, if I use “girtnip” to encode “bicycle”, I have lost no functionality in language; I’m just using a different set of abstract symbols to refer to bicycles than usual.

        In DNA and RNA, however, the code is the functionality. You can’t replace the “symbols” with anything else you please and expect no loss in functionality. As such, the information in DNA and RNA are not simply “mental constructs”.

        • Do you mean the genetic algorithms developed by men to mimic natural selection? \ Random chance constrained by a selection mechanism// shows that it could not happen without the designed mechanism.

          Creationists believe that natural selection was a part of our design to provide the endless variety, but as you say “constrained by a selection mechanism.” In other words, the variety is built into the design. Potential variety was included in the programming.

          \then of course it’s designed// The obvious comes from recognizing the man-made design. However, you completely ignore the evidence when the complexity is beyond the design of man. Information is a mental construct, so when you see an operating system/complex code (DNA/RNA), then you need to understand that there was a designer.

          Coded information does not happen spontaneously. You also need the means to translate, act upon and maintain. You could have a DVD, but without the code written on it, the drive that reads it and the machine that does the operation, you have nothing.

          Snowflakes do not replicate.

          You disambiguate between data (collectable info) and code (prescriptive information) or if you would better understand, instructions. In order for life to make it past one generation, it would need to replicate. Instructions, translation, mechanism to act upon the instructions.

          In the case of DNA, the instructions to make that mechanism is on the DNA. This code IS a mental construct and though it would operate in another medium, can be understood.

          I can extract the coded information from any program and put it down on paper and understand it. If I understand what it does I can visualize the operation virtually in my mind.

          • Matthew Funke

            Do you mean the genetic algorithms developed by men to mimic natural selection? \ Random chance constrained by a selection mechanism// shows that it could not happen without the designed mechanism.

            You’re engaging in circular reasoning, there, unless you can show that the mechanism is designed. You’re claiming to know the algorithms are designed because you know that the mechanism is designed. In order to claim knowledge of design, you need to bring in independent evidence.

            Creationists believe that natural selection was a part of our design to provide the endless variety, but as you say “constrained by a selection mechanism.” In other words, the variety is built into the design. Potential variety was included in the programming.

            No problem there.

            However, you completely ignore the evidence when the complexity is beyond the design of man.

            Because complexity, by itself, is not an indication of design — much less the degree of complexity.

            Information is a mental construct, so when you see an operating system/complex code (DNA/RNA), then you need to understand that there was a designer.

            Information is not purely a mental construct, especially when the “syntax” of the information-carrying system is critical to the construction of something — i.e., the information content is not separate from the physical structure of the mechanism. There is no sense in which the sequence of nucleic bases in DNA/RNA is separate from the amino acids and proteins those sequences encode. One cannot change the representation of the “information” according to a new and arbitrary set of rules without changing the end product.

            In other words, information can only be spoken of as being a “mental construct” if the information is independent of its medium. The information in DNA/RNA does not exhibit this kind of independence.

            Coded information does not happen spontaneously.

            This, more than anything so far, shows me that you don’t know what you’re talking about with respect to how information is treated scientifically. Shannon-Weaver information theory shows that information content is maximized by alterations that happen spontaneously (“random noise”). This is important to a process like evolution, because random mutations form information so that selection mechanisms can act upon it.

            Moreover, direct observation reveals that complex, self-replicating biological molecules, complete with the information they carry, form spontaneously through nothing more than basic chemistry and heat. Once they exist, selection mechanisms can act upon them to preserve some bits of information and remove others.

            I can give you more information if you like.

            You also need the means to translate, act upon and maintain.

            Precisely. Chemistry and selection mechanisms.

            Snowflakes do not replicate.

            Snowflakes are simple crystals. Crystals, in an environment conducive to such things and in the presence of the proper minerals, can be broken so that each piece will replicate. Snowflakes, too.

            In order for life to make it past one generation, it would need to replicate. Instructions, translation, mechanism to act upon the instructions.

            Yes. The environment telegraphs information back to the genome through selective mechanisms. This is not mysterious.

            This code IS a mental construct and though it would operate in another medium, can be understood.

            Yes. But this does not mean that it is information divorced from its representation.

            If you were to use standard notations to record the information in DNA/RNA, in other words, that abstract representation of that information would not behave as DNA/RNA does on its own.

            I can extract the coded information from any program and put it down on paper and understand it. If I understand what it does I can visualize the operation virtually in my mind.

            Yes. But that does not mean that the information is independent of its medium. In order to visualize the operation, you need to know how the information would act within the environment where it exists, which means that it cannot be independent of its medium.

          • If the mechanism is built using instructions, then it is designed. If we are dealing with life, then you start with the programing. Our programming is what tells our cells how to grow. The genetic programs RNA and DNA contain these instructions. That information needs protection so their genome doesn’t degrade in whatever the environment. That would be the lipid membrane.

            They also need the machinery to transform chemical energy into metabolic energy so they can replicate. Pre-existing proteins are needed to catalyze the reactions of metabolism and replication of the machinery. The synthesis of proteins depends on different pre-existing proteins and the ribosome which is like a small factory.

            Take away any of these components and life doesn’t exist. All this complexity is required at the same time and place for the SIMPLEST single-celled life.

            \the information content is not separate from the physical structure of the mechanism//

            There is software designed to help with editing DNA. The editing process itself has reached a new level of simplicity. With tools like CRISPR, we can break a strand and insert a new combination or donated strand into it.

            The representation of the DNA information is therefor in a different medium, separate of the physical. The code is not fully understood yet of course as it is more complex than any software written by man.

            Shannon’s type of information is data. Shannon-Weaver’s maximized content would not be suitable for biological information, since exact representation is not the goal and would be a mutation unless repaired. Mutations represent a loss of information and seldom to the benefit of the organism or other product, a song for instance.

            As for the spontaneous formation of self-replicating biological molecules, please cite a reference.

            “The law of biogenesis, attributed to Louis Pasteur, is the conclusion that complex living things come only from other living things, by reproduction (e.g. a spider lays eggs, which develop into spiders). That is, modern life does not arise from non-living material, which was the position held by spontaneous generation.” -Wikipedia.

            Chemistry does not beget life. If you can demonstrate otherwise, I would be extremely interested.

            Snowflake replication means snow. They are not exact replicas, but even if you were to find one close, it would be an accident. It contains data only if examined by an intelligence. A cell replicates by instructions contained in the original. How all of the cells grow, form structure and roles is by following the instructions, not by going this way or that based only on environment.

            The selective mechanisms require the instructions, translation and mechanisms from the original cell or cells.

            The code has specific purpose, but whether it is in my head, on paper or saved to a disc, it means the same. A song can be thought, written, played on an instrument or device. It is still a specific song.

            We can compare genes on paper to recognize some of the known traits.

            DNA. The code can exist in thought, paper, or digitally represented. Different mediums. I can read a song and know what it does without it actually being put into operation. Same with DNA.

            DNA can also be used for none living purposes. People like Craig Venter from the Encode project and now his own organization have used DNA code for other purposes, even storage of other information.

          • Matthew Funke

            I notice that a lot of your arguments seem to boil down to incredulity. “I can’t imagine a natural way for this to have occurred; therefore, it was designed.” The conclusion does not follow from the premise. Failure of imagination is not a form of evidence.

            No one denies that the origin of life is a difficult thing to work out. And it’s true that we don’t have a complete solution. But that doesn’t mean that design must be inferred. “We don’t know every detail about how this could have happened”, in other words, is not evidence of anything. Ignorance cannot be evidence of anything.

            With that in mind, what evidence do you have of design?

            If the mechanism is built using instructions, then it is designed.

            That depends on what you’re calling an “instruction”.

            Streams sort the size of stones. Basalt, as it cools, forms hexagonal cracks. Physical laws serve as the only “instructions” to make these things happen.

            Why, in other words, should we consider the biochemistry of the cell “instructions”, but not “You, there, hydrogen — go mix with that oxygen over there in such a way as to produce water”? What is happening independently of the laws of chemistry? What special definition of “instruction” are you using?

            They also need the machinery to transform chemical energy into metabolic energy so they can replicate.

            Yes. Thankfully, the energy conversion mechanism is everywhere. Atoms routinely convert energy among light, heat, and chemical potential. Any atom can convert energy this way. From there, it’s just a question of efficiency and/or sophistication.

            Pre-existing proteins are needed to catalyze the reactions of metabolism and replication of th e machinery. The synthesis of proteins depends on different pre-existing proteins and the ribosome which is like a small factory.

            No one here is claiming that DNA and its associated proteins formed instantly and spontaneously in its current form. Abiogenesis frequently refers to replicators that catalyze their own duplication. RNA, for example, can catalyze its own duplication, and is likely itself derived from simpler peptide nucleic acids. Deoxyribozymes can both catalyze their own replication and cleave RNA without protein enzymes of any kind.

            “Like a small factory” is rather imprecise. We’re trying to discuss how you know it was designed, and such comments are about as helpful as “that cloud looks like a pony”. What features does the ribosome possess that mandate its design?

            Take away any of these components and life doesn’t exist.

            Certainly not life as we know it now. But no one is suggesting that life as we know it now was the first thing to replicate itself. It probably would have been difficult to justify even calling it “life”.

            All this complexity is required at the same time and place for the SIMPLEST single-celled life.

            No one is suggesting that the first thing to replicate itself was a single-celled organism, either.

            There is software designed to help with editing DNA.

            There is also software designed to help with mapping the ocean floor, with locating minerals under miles of rock, and with predicting climate change. That implies nothing about design.

            The representation of the DNA information is therefor in a different medium, separate of the physical.

            Yes, the representation of the DNA. The DNA itself does not contain a code that is separate from its function. Its syntactics and semantics are inseparable. We’re talking about the design of DNA itself, not design of the representation of DNA.

            By contrast, information such as the written word has separate semantic and syntactic content. This kind of information only contains semantic content because we agree on what arbitrary syntactic symbols relate to which semantic content. There is no sense in which the DNA’s “information” is arbitrary with respect to its function.

            The code is not fully understood yet of course as it is more complex than any software written by man.

            Again, the complexity of a thing is not, by itself, a reason to infer design. In light of that, it’s interesting that you keep going back to it as if it is significant. Is it the only argument you have?

            Shannon’s type of information is data.

            So is DNA’s. The important thing to recognize is that the data cannot be arbitrarily represented in DNA and continue to function.

            Shannon-Weaver’s maximized content would not be suitable for biological informati on, since exact representation is not the goal and would be a mutation unless repaired.

            That’s exactly what happens. Shannon-Weaver shows that natural selection of any kind could not happen otherwise. Mutation is a form of random variation. Natural selection acts on that variation. It is the process whereby nonadaptive variation is culled, and adaptive variations are selected. It is how information of the environment gets related to the genome of the population.

            In other words, exact representation is not the “goal” of Shannon-Weaver, either. “Random noise”, which I referred to earlier, is, by definition, unexpected and not part of exact representation.

            Again, it’s clear that you don’t know what you’re talking about with respect to “information” as it’s treated scientifically.

            Mutations represent a loss of information and seldom to the benefit of the organism or other product, a song for instance.

            For every single mutation, there is a corresponding mutation that “undoes” it. Therefore, if any mutation represents a “loss” of information, there is a corresponding mutation that represents a “gain” in information. They are not as uniform as you suggest.

            More to the point, we have directly observed every kind of gain of “information” that is required to drive evolution. We have observed (a) increased genetic variety in a population; (b) increased genetic material in an organism; (c) brand-new genetic material in an organism; and (d) brand-new genetically-regulated capabilities. If you mean something different by a gain of “information”, evolution does not require it in the first place. I can provide citations if you like.

            It also turns out that as rare as beneficial mutations are, there is a selective mechanism whereby the rare beneficial mutations are retained and deleterious ones are culled. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

            As for the spontaneous formation of self-replicating biological molecules, please cite a reference.

            Lee, D. H. et al. 1996. A self-replicating peptide. Nature 382: 525-528.

            Ball, Philip. 2001. Missing links made simple. Nature Science Update (15 Mar.).

            Tamura, K. and P. Schimmel. 2001. Oligonucleotide-directed peptide synthesis in a ribosome- and ribozyme-free system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 98: 1393-1397.

            These results show that self-replicating molecules don’t even have to be complex, even if they have to build proteins.

            “The law of biogenesis, attributed to Louis Pasteur, is the conclusion that complex living things come only from other living things, by reproduction (e.g. a spider lays eggs, which develop into spiders). That is, modern life does not arise from non-living material, which was the position held by spontaneous generation.” -Wikipedia.

            Wikipedia is not a reliable source for scientific understanding. Nevertheless, you’ll note the part that follows “That is”, and that it specifically refutes spontaneous generation — which, as I pointed out, is a form of creationism.

            Snowflake replication means snow. They are not exact replicas, but even if you were to find one close, it would be an accident.

            If we’re talking about the level of “alikeness” represented by two cells, actually, small snow crystals — which are often simple hexagonal prisms — are exact replicas, and they constitute the vast majority of snowflakes. It’s only when snowflakes form “stellar crystals” that they are pretty unique, because the number of possible ways to make a complex snowflake are staggeringly large, and there is no constraining mechanism to keep the number of surviving “stellar crystals” small.

            The rest of your attempt to separate cells from chemistry is covered pretty well in my question about what you mean by “instructions”, I think.

            The code has specific purpose, but whether it is in my head, on paper or saved to a disc, it means the same.

            Only if you replicate the environment. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a collection of symbols, and has no intrinsic “meaning”; it’s only a mere representation of the construction of DNA. If you replicate the environment — the rules of chemistry and physics — the “code” becomes inseparable from its function.

            A song can be thought, written, played on an instrument or device. It is still a specific song.

            Yes. And at least conceptually, if we had chosen different sound patterns to represent different words, or if our language were arraged differently (assuming lyrics), we could have a song that relates precisely the same meaning as the original — the same semantic content — with wildly different lyrics, musical progressions, and so forth (syntactic content). The semantics are not intrinsic to the syntax. This is not true of DNA; choosing different syntactic content cannot produce identical semantic content.

            The code can exist in thought, paper, or digitally represented. Different mediums. I can read a song and know what it does without it actually being put into operation. Same with DNA.

            You’re not quite getting it. You can read the song and know how it will sound, but that’s because you know which symbols have been agreed upon to relate to which sounds. If different symbols had been chosen to refer to those sounds, and you knew how to interpret those symbols, you could still read the song.

            This is paralleled by the fact that the same sound can be represented digitally by a number of different codecs. The same song can be produced, no matter whether the pattern of voltages across microscopic capacitors in the computer’s memory correspond to codecs we call “WAV”, “MP3”, “AIFF”, “FLAC”, or many others, because multiple decoders exist.

            By contrast, you cannot use a different “codec” in DNA to produce the same proteins. If you change the syntax, what you get out is different, because there is only one way in which DNA sequencing relates to amino acid sequencing. You must get different amino acid sequences out, and therefore different proteins out, if you change the DNA sequence.

            DNA can also be used for none living purposes. People like Craig Venter from the Encode project and now his own organization have used DNA code for other purposes, even storage of other information.

            Irrelevant. You can’t change the functional DNA in a living organism without changing its semantic content.

            The reason you can encode different things using DNA is because you’re imposing different decoders onto the information. You’re ignoring the amino acid sequences produced in order to confer a different semantic content to the DNA. Insisting that this allows semantic and syntactic content to be separate ignores what the semantic content is, and is no more to the point than that you can use computer memory to store just about anything digital (pictures, sounds, text files, and on and on).

          • Matthew Funke

            Shannon-Weaver’s maximized content would not be suitable for biological informati on, since exact representation is not the goal and would be a mutation unless repaired.

            It occurs to me that I may have misread your statement initially, and that you meant to express that Shannon-Weaver “information” does not have the “goal” of exact representation (with the implication that information in DNA does have this goal, so Shannon-Weaver does not apply).

            And that’s true, in a sense; Shannon-Weaver information theory merely covers the reliability of transmission of information (and the content of information itself), and all we can do is apply it to systems in the world. But if that’s what you meant, that’s even worse, because it presupposes a whole mess of things, none of which you’ve shown any kind of evidence for.

            It presupposes not just that you know that DNA was designed (which, so far, you’ve given no reason to accept). On top of that, it presupposes that the designer had a specific goal when he/she/it/they designed DNA — a claim I’ve seen no evidence for. And on top of that, it presupposes that you, personally know what that goal was — namely, “exact representation”, whatever it is that you mean by that. (Do I have to point out that I have no evidence of your knowledge of that goal based on what you’ve chosen to share thus far?)

            But ultimately, your objection is irrelevant, because characteristics of information given by Shannon-Weaver don’t even consider that information’s “goal” in any sense. It doesn’t have the “goal” of exact representation, but it doesn’t have to; it does not concern itself with “goals” at all, because no matter what “goal” it has or doesn’t, information still works the same way.

            Which means that the information in DNA is subject to Shannon-Weaver information theory, insofar as it’s correct about anything. In other words, DNA’s information, too, is maximized by “random noise” (mutation). Whether or not that information is useful to the organism that has that DNA is irrelevant; more information is there. (Shannon-Weaver does not rate information by utility, either — merely amount of content.)

            So even if I misread you, you still seem to have a dim understanding of how information is treated from a scientific standpoint. Worse, you’ve apparently invented weird restrictions apparently out of thin air concerning what Shannon-Weaver is about to suit your preferred notions, and this discussion is not going to be very fruitful if you’re going to make stuff up to corroborate your claims.

            Here’s something useful in light of what we’re talking about, and how random noise is selected to turn into useful stuff: Adami, C., C. Ofria and T. C. Collier, 2000. Evolution of biological complexity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 97(9): 4463-4468.

  • No, but obviously memes are the evolution of reason.