Response to vjtorley’s post: Why there’s no such thing as a CSI Scanner, or: Reasonable and Unreasonable Demands Relating to Complex Specified Information

This would have been a comment in response to this post – but it got far too long. The original post is here


I agree that  (i) to (iii) are reasonable and (iv) to (vii) not required.  I suspect that Mathgrrl would also agree on consideration. However, I disagree that (i) has been done satisfactorily for real-life systems.

To clarify – it is always possible to dream up a calculation and come up with a number.  The question is does it mean anything? And most importantly can it be used as evidence for design without knowing anything about how the object arose.

For me the main beneift of Mathgrrl’s challenge  was to clarify what is meant by CSI.  I don’t think any reasonable person can dispute there is some confusion, even amongst the ID community, about what it means.  Just look at the number of conflicting comments following her challenge.  And indeed your attempts to estimate the CSI for real situations have shown up a number of ways where the concept is unclear.

When you did the calculation for bacterial flagellum on the previous thread I made five objections which you kindly recognised as substantial.  Some of have become immaterial, others you have addressed (I believe wrongly) and others you have not addressed.  I also have some others to add. So I going to present a revised list:

1) The formula Chi=-log2[10^120.Phi_s(T).P(T|H)] contains a rather basic error.  10^120.Phi_s(T).P(T|H) is clearly meant to represent the probability of something meeting the specification at least once.  He does this by multiplying the probability of the observed pattern P(T|H) by the potential opportunities for it or a simpler pattern occurring:  10^120.Phi_s(T). This is wrong. If you have n independent events and the probability of single event having outcome x is p, then the probability of at least one event having outcome x is not np . It is (1 – (1-p)^n). So the calculation 10^120.Phi_s(T).P(T|H) is wrong – even if you could make sense of Phi_s(T ) and P(T|H).  I don’t think this a show-stopper.  The answer is still very small if p is small relative to n.  But it does illustrate the lack of attention to detail and general sloppiness in some of the work on CSI.


2) There is some confusion as to whether Phi_s(T) includes all patterns that are “at least as simple as the observed pattern” or whether it is only those patterns that are “at least as simple as the observed pattern AND are at least as improbable”.  As you say, on page 17  of Dembski’s paper Phi_s(T )is defined as the number of patterns that are “at least as simple”. On page 18 he introduces the additional requirement that the patterns should be at least as improbable, but then when we get to real examples such as the bacterial flagellum this additional requirement does not feature in the calculation.  He simply estimates the number of patterns that are as least as simple – and this is the estimate you use.  This is significant.  If we use the “at least as simple” criterion then some of the other patterns may be vastly more probable than the observed pattern.  So we really have to use the “at least as simple  AND are at least as improbable” criterion.  Dembski does not give any way to estimate the number of these patterns, but we do know that it is less than the number of patterns that are “at least as simple”.  So you could argue that he is estimating the minimum CSI. However, there is no adequate justification for only using the patterns that are less probable.  He simply says that this allows us to rule out “large targets”.  But this is simply to repeat the criterion – not to justify it.


3) When Dembski (and you) estimate Phi_s(T) you use a conceptual definition of T:  “bidirectional rotary motor-driven propeller”.  This is not necessarily (in fact is  almost certainly not) the same as the exact configuration of proteins.  We have no idea what other configurations of proteins might achieve this effect.  So when you insert P(T|H) into the formula it is a different T!  You do attempt to address this for the ATP case with a note in brackets. You say that any other configuration of proteins would be a lot more complex and therefore vastly more improbable.  I am not a biochemist (are you?) and cannot comment on the truth of this or whether it is also true of the bacterial flagellum.  I think you have to admit this is unproven.


4) The attempt to identify simple or simpler patterns through number of concepts is an absolute minefield.  First are we talking about the number of concepts that the agent has in their brain at the time or the number that they could potentially use?   A child has a lot less concepts than an educated adult so their value of Phi_s(T ) and their estimate of CSI is going to be a lot lower. So we lose the objectivity of CSI. So we might want to talk about the number of concepts in some idealised language which children and adults could acquire – but then there is no reason why, for example, every number could not be included as a separate concept and we have an infinite number of concepts.  Even if we draw some boundary round the language that can be used, it is not clear what counts one concept. A concept is not the same as a word. A “motor” can be broken down into many other concepts e.g. machine that converts other forms of energy into mechanical energy and so imparts motion.  We might even consider flagellum to be one concept.  The criterion of simplicity is fairly sensible when applied to noddy examples such as playing cards but it becomes meaningless when applied to real life.


5) The definition of H is very flaky.  You admit that you are not certain what Dembski means.  So you adopt your own definition – “a process which does not require the input of information”.  But as we are currently using this formula to clarify what we mean by information this is circular.  It also suggests that the level of CSI is relative to a specific chance hypothesis – not an absolute value for a given outcome.  A popular approach among the ID community is to estimate the probability relative to the hypothesis that all DNA pairs, amino acids or whatever are equally probable and independent of each other.  This makes extensive use of Bernouilli’s principle of indifference with all the associated problems and just isn’t true in real life. But I don’t think you support this approach because in the case of gene duplication you want to include the possibility of gene duplication in the chance hypothesis so you don’t end up with the awkward result that gene duplication doubles the CSI.  But once you admit that knowing about gene duplication radically affects the level of CSI you are open to the possibility that other unspecified or unknown events such as gene duplication can have enormous affects on the supposed CSI.  In other words we cannot even make a rough estimate of CSI without having a good account of all possible natural processes.


I haven’t finished with my objections – but I think this will do for the moment.


Yours Mark


18 Responses to “Response to vjtorley’s post: Why there’s no such thing as a CSI Scanner, or: Reasonable and Unreasonable Demands Relating to Complex Specified Information”

  1. 1 Toronto March 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Mark Frank:

    But once you admit that knowing about gene duplication radically affects the level of CSI you are open to the possibility that other unspecified or unknown events such as gene duplication can have enormous affects on the supposed CSI. In other words we cannot even make a rough estimate of CSI without having a good account of all possible natural processes.

    This is a huge hurdle for ID to overcome as they now need to know as much as any evolutionary biologist before they can commit an object to the “designed” column, by way of eliminating any natural process.

    A second more global point to the whole CSI issue is that ID’ers are evaluating these objects based on a static sampling of one instance of an object’s state.

    These objects we are looking at, cannot be described as simple “bit-mapped” objects. They are dynamic and have to have that state-to-state “information” and their associated events factored into any CSI determining algorithm.

    Just watch what happens when a doctor adds another prescription to a patients list. Almost all the other drugs have to be re-evaluated and some maybe eliminated by the addition of the new drug.

    ID has to dynamically evaluate any organism they are studying with algorithms that take into account that on-going change.

  2. 2 Pachyaena April 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I’m not sure that this will be appropriate to the topic of this thread but I’ll take a chance.

    On UD, GilDodgen said:

    “I have simply challenged physical anthropologists to come up with a reasonable defense of the thesis that the Darwinian mechanism of random mutation and natural selection can turn Lucy into Mozart with the available probabilistic resources, and to give a detailed account of what random mutations would be required required to perform the job, and their likelinood of odccuring.”

    I don’t see why Gil or anyone else would use Mozart in this way. Mozart was just a human being, and I’m sure he had some flaws, like other human beings. His musical talent may have been built-in but if he had never been exposed to the right things he would never have composed any music.

    How many people with built-in musical talent are born every day who never develop that talent because they aren’t exposed to musical instruments, live music, recorded music, written music, etc., and the encouragement and opportunity to develop their musical talent? There’s really nothing rare about musical talent. And some people are not impressed with Mozart’s music.

    I wonder if Gil would accept that Lucy could have evolved into Ozzy Osbourne or Alice Cooper?

    Ability is a matter of degree. Mozart’s ability was good when it came to a certain kind of music, but for all anyone knows he might have been lousy at tying his shoes or boiling water.

    I can run but many people can run faster than I can, and many people can’t. I can play some musical instruments better than some people but not as well as many other people. The things I do or have done are part talent and part exposure, opportunity, and encouragement. My Dad played drums and I play drums. I play better than either of my two brothers even though they had the same exposure to drums, the same opportunity to play drums and the same encouragement to play drums.

    My brothers and I came from the same parents, the same grandparents, and the same great grandparents, etc., yet we are not exactly alike, including in musical talent. Many people have a kid who is born disabled in some way, or has a ‘genetic’ disease, or goes bald early in life, or is prone to being fat, or has built-in, noticeable talent of some kind, or is short, while their other kids are not born disabled, do not have a ‘genetic’ disease, do not go bald, are prone to being thin, have no noticeable built-in talents, and are tall.

    Maybe it’s design, or maybe it’s not? If it’s intelligent design, why would a designer create some people with noticeable talent or other beneficial attributes and others with average attributes, somewhat harmful attributes, or even horrible attributes?

    If a designer is going to get credit for the good things in people (and other organisms) then the designer should be held responsible for the bad things too. How do ID proponents explain the built-in differences between individuals of the same species, and especially if the differences put many individuals in the position of suffering or dying (often before they’re able or old enough to reproduce)?

    I don’t recall seeing an ID proponent using a person born with Down’s Syndrome, cancer, no arms or legs, blind, deaf, Epilepsy, seizures, both male and female sex organs, and all the other ‘flaws’ to support ID. Instead, they use Mozart. Do ‘flaws’ have CSI and function?

  3. 3 Pachyaena April 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    An example of the honest (cough, cough) and “civil” exchanges UD welcomes on their site:



    6:20 am

    So the bright side of being an atheist is being a moron?”

  4. 4 Alan Fox April 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Marrk, I think Vince Torley has given you a bit to chew on here Don’t see much to do with biological examples but I’ll look forward to seeing others’ views, including yours and, hopefully, Mazthgrrl’s.

  5. 6 Alan Fox April 8, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    PS Your comment about cold and draughty old C of E country churches with hard seats and uninspiring vicars struck a chord with me. But this an unknown and alien concept to US readers. Having seen Ted Haggard’s amphitheatre church on TV when Dawkins paid his notorious visit I suspect it was an understandable reaction from the usual suspects.

  6. 8 Pachyaena April 9, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Mark, one thing you could do is ask vjtorley to put his convoluted formula into a practical use. Name 3 or 4 organisms and a few nonliving things and ask him to precisely calculate the CSI, function, irreducible complexity, and overall ID in them.

  7. 9 Pachyaena April 15, 2011 at 11:07 am

    BREAKING: Upright Biped admits there’s no information in CSI and that information is only a perception of humans! Since information is the critical part of CSI, and CS means nothing without the “I”, the theory or concept of CSI and its synonym, specified complexity, are dead.

    Yeah, I’m having a little fun with the BREAKING bit, but seriously, if there’s no information in anything but our perception, then ID and CSI and all its particulars are meaningless and non-existent. Unless information is intrinsic in matter and/or the ‘forces’ (or energy) that are in matter, ID is impossible. In fact, I don’t see how the universe or life itself could be possible unless information is in matter and/or the ‘forces’ in matter.

    If information is only in our perception, it would only exist if humans exist, and if it’s only in our perception, it really doesn’t exist even if humans do exist. It’s then just a label we put on something we made up. In other words, if information is only in our perception, it’s no different than the non-existent things I imagined in my dream last night. It wouldn’t be measurable, or calculable, or computable, or recordable. It wouldn’t be a gas, a force, a thing, a substance, a particle, etc.

    If there’s no information in matter or atoms, or the forces that make atoms do what they do, and if there’s no information in any living thing or in any natural process, then how does a Leopard know the difference between the scent marks it left on a tree versus the ones left there by a different Leopard? How does a dog tell the difference between a bowl of ice cream and a cat? How does a bird know how to build a nest? How does an embryo form? Why doesn’t a chicken embryo become a frog? Different information in the chicken embryo than in a frog embryo?

    Is there information in matter?

    How can information (like the “I” in CSI) be observed, measured, calculated, computed, recorded, or used, in anything or by anything, if there’s no information in anything except human perception?

    Is information nonexistent in everything except human perception just because none of those things can put a word label on it like we can? Can a monkey or a slug perceive and use information? How about a plant? Is there information in a monkey or a slug? How about a plant?

    Now, I may not be saying this very well, and it’s okay to tell me so, but please cut me a little slack. It’s been a long day and the father of a friend died last night.

    Upright Biped’s post from UD, with the relevant parts included:

    Upright BiPed


    5:27 pm

    You indicate that you think information is “in” material things…like tree rings, carbon atoms, etc. I therefore have a fundamental disagreement with you. There is no information contained in these things. Information is not in the things of the universe, it is about those things instead. When I come across persons who hold your view, I generally attempt to make the distinction between information and matter. There is no information inside an atom of carbon. An atom of carbon contains a certain number of protons, electrons, and neutrons – but there are no particles of information. The information we have of carbon came about from our perception of it, and from nowhere else.

  8. 10 Pachyaena April 15, 2011 at 11:42 am



    5:51 am

    You know your position is nonsense when it cannot handle being critically analyzed.


    Hmm, I think Joe typed before he thought. 🙂

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