Note: I’ve gotten a few requests for notes or a handout from my recent talk at the Christian Scientific Society meeting, “A Taxonomy of Information and the Design Inference.” The talk should be available online eventually, but for the time being below is a condensed and reader-friendly reformatted version of my notes from the talk. The rough notes are also available here as a PDF.
The question I want to address is this: What are some common definitions of information, and which definition is most useful for making the design inference? To answer this question, let’s review several different definitions of information.
What Is Information?
Information is not always easy to define, but it often involves a measure of degree of randomness. The fundamental intuition behind information is a reduction in possibilities. The more possibilities you rule out, the more information you’ve conveyed.
Nature can produce “information” under certain definitions. Intelligent agents also produce information (certain types, at least). As Henry Quastler observed, “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” continue…
Mad Student Disease is sweeping our nation’s campuses, while Foot-in-Mouth Disease is allegedly spreading among faculty. Where will this end? A Bang? or Just Whimper Softly? Thank you, Academy: You’ve trained these students as our Future Leaders. The tenured radicals who were/are responsible are/will be in their graves as the fruits of their labors ripen and fall. And the bonus: students get to go into debt for all this “education.”
Here is where Wolfe finds his material. We hold doggie yoga classes while selling fetal brains. We denounce global warming from conferences we arrive at by private jet. We recite the hosannas of diversity while suppressing opposing views. We release prisoners even though the communities most likely to be harmed by such a policy are the majority-minority neighborhoods we profess to care so deeply about. We inhabit a continent of poses and struts and vanity and incompetence. It’s a thick soup of the absurd, the frustrating, and the maddening.
I just received the newest issue of Wired in the mail. On the cover is Serena Williams alongside headlines such as “Equality in the Digital Age” and “Let’s Change the Future.” As you would expect, there is a heavy focus here on race, gender, etc…
Regardless of whatever “age” we find ourselves in, I believe that we all are equal in dignity, and society flourishes when we acknowledge this. For example, from the Catechism of the Catholic church: “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son1 to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity.”
But there is no such thing as ultimate, absolute equality in everything–and life will seem very “unfair” to you if you truly believe that there is. There are inherent differences, as the Williams sisters can attest to. Does anyone remember this?
1998: Karsten Braasch vs. the Williams sisters
Another event dubbed a “Battle of the Sexes” took place during the 1998 Australian Open between Karsten Braasch and the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena Williams, aged 17 and 16 respectively, had claimed that they could beat any male player ranked below 200, so Braasch, then ranked 203rd, challenged them both. Braasch was described by one journalist as “a man whose training regime centered around a pack of cigarettes and more than a couple bottles of ice cold lager.” The matches took place on court number 12 in Melbourne Park, after Braasch had finished a round of golf and two beers. He first took on Serena and after leading 5–0, beat her 6–1. Venus then walked on court and again Braasch was victorious, this time winning 6–2. Braasch said afterwards, “500 and above, no chance.” He added that he had played like someone ranked 600th in order to keep the game “fun.” Braasch said the big difference was that men can chase down shots much easier, and that men put spin on the ball that the women can’t handle. The Williams sisters adjusted their claim to beating men outside the top 350.
Carl Sagan has made his way into the pages of Salvo a few times over the years, so I thought this would be a good time to dig up one of those articles for your reading pleasure. It’s an oldie (from issue #11), but most Salvo articles stand up to the test of time and remain as culturally relevant as ever. For example…
Imagine a world where Sagan and his followers controlled science, media, politics, and most everything else. We might call it a “Scientocracy.” And for Sagan’s followers, that goal is reachable, so long as we let scientism—the pretension that science can solve all of our problems—govern society.
If Sagan is Allah, then his messenger just might be Chris Mooney, a science journalist whose recent book with Sheril Kirshenbaum, Unscientific America: How Science Illiteracy Threatens our Future (Basic Books, 2009), mentions the astronomer’s name no fewer than 60 times.
According to Mooney, we need an America where “science has far more prominence in politics and the media . . . and ultimately, far more influence where it truly matters—namely setting the agenda for the future as far out as we can glimpse it.” The key to fulfilling Sagan’s vision is to produce a populace that shows a “broader acceptance” of science and that is “as scientifically literate as anyone could reasonably hope for.”
At base, scientific literacy is certainly not a bad thing. A scientifically literate individual is simply someone capable of making informed decisions about scientific questions in both his personal and his civic life.
One might presume that, so long as a person has a working knowledge of science—perhaps even a college-level science education—he would be scientifically literate, even if he dissented from, say, neo-Darwinian evolution.
Not so. Though Mooney might claim otherwise, Unscientific America appears based upon the premise that “science literacy” requires full assent to the “consensus” on controversial topics like evolution, embryonic stem-cell research, and global warming. It’s not even clear whether scientific literacy demands an understanding of science, provided that one endorses all the proper policy positions.
Luskin goes on to write:
The public is increasingly skeptical that the media is telling the whole story, but it still trusts scientists. Thus, Unscientific America ends with an emphatic call for scientists to “engage” with society because “science itself must become the common culture.”
The hope is that scientists can become cool, hip, and chic, and thereby convince everyone to accept their views. If the plan succeeds, we’ll witness an army of graduate-degree-boasting and sound-byte-spewing scientists carrying the good news of scientific consensus to the ends of the earth.
And for those academics who feel that telling the public what to believe is below their pay grade, there’s a cleaner option: “Arm graduate-level science students with the skills to communicate the value of what science does and to get into better touch with our culture.”
… Even scientists sympathetic to the Cosmos‘ agenda have pointed out serious flaws. “Cosmos is a fantastic artifact of scientific myth making,” wrote science historian Joseph Martin of Michigan State University. Yet, he defends the series, including the myth making. Why? Luskin parses Martin’s defense: because Martin thinks it’s permissible to lie if the lie helps “promote greater public trust in science.” Martin calls this kind of useful lie a “taradiddle.”