Commentary on the so-called Creation/Evolution/Intelligent Design Debate and Right-Wing nuttery in general - and please ignore the typos (I make lots!)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

More software engineer genetics from R. David Pogge

I never know whether to laugh or cry when I read things like this.
R. David Pogge, whose site contains silly articles on evolution (a few of which I have rebutted already), seems to believe that one can successfully take the concepts of information theory and apply them directly to genetics in the same way that the concepts are used in electronic communication and software.
And comedy ensues...
My comments in red.

Gene Duplicatioioion
Added genes don’t add information.
Interesting. So now even adding new genes doesn't add information to the genome? Another example of creationists trying to "disprove" evolution via definition...

Last month, we shared Jeff’s email about gene
with you. Argumentative Alex responded immediately with an email
titled, “Gene Duplicatioioion”. We presume the doubly repeated “io” in the title
was intentional. It was funny, but it helps make our point, not Jeff’s. The
repeated letters do not increase information.

Not in written English words, no.

In our column we had written, “We hope he got the point.” Alex picked up
this phrase and responded:

We hope he got the point.
We hope he got the paint.
We hope she got the paint.
We hoped she got the paint.
He hoped she got the paint.
He hoped she got the paints.
She hoped she got the paints.
She hopped, she got the pants.
She shopped, she got the pants.
She shopped, she’d got the pants.
She shopped, she’d get the pants.
How long would [you] like
me to go on?
Best wishes


We didn’t believe that all of those changes were random. We thought
that Alex cleverly (dare we say, “intelligently”?) made each change with the
expressed goal of changing the meaning to prove a point. When we challenged the
randomness of the process, Alex replied,

No, I confess, the changes were not random - I don't
have geological time and had to use a bit of intelligent design. However, if you
don't mind waiting for a bit I could do the same thing by changing or
deleting one letter at random. If I deleted the 'failures' and sent you
only the sentences that pass my 'natural selection' test, you would not be able
to tell the difference!

Alex has confused an inefficient process with a random process. If I
didn’t mind waiting a bit, I could have a monkey randomly press keys on my
keyboard. Every time the monkey presses the wrong key, I could delete it.
Eventually “the monkey” could write this whole column “randomly.” But, in fact,
I would have been guiding the process all the way, making the monkey write what
I wanted it to write. It would just take a lot longer than pressing the keys

Now, replace the monkey with, say, an imperfect DNA replication system, and you deleting entries you did not want with nature applying selection pressure to "delete" the deleterious results of the imperfect DNA replication, and thus we have an imperfect yet far more analogous situation. But please, go on...

Each of Alex’s intentional modifications was syntactically correct. That is, all
of the words were spelled correctly. Each intentional modification was
semantically correct. That is, the nouns and verbs were in the correct
positions. But information did not increase.

It will be interesting to see how Pogge deals with "information." In my experience, if you ask 10 creationists - even 10 with engineering backgrounds - what "information" is you will get 10 different answers. But I do wonder if Alex's point was even to show an increase in information. It is hard to tell.

We hoped he got the point. We didn’t hope he got the PAINT. Alex’s first
modification did not accurately express anything about our hopes. Therefore, it
did not convey information. We didn’t hope SHE got the paint, either.

So, it appears that to R. David Pogge, creationist software engineer, that "information" means 'meaning.' Strange definition for an engineer to use, considering what "information " really means in his own field:

"Information is a message from a sender to one or more receivers. If information is viewed in this manner, it does not have to be accurate. It may be a truth or a lie, or just the sound of a kiss. Even a disruptive noise used to inhibit the flow of communication and create misunderstanding would in this view be a form of information..."

More interesting is the measure of information as used in Information Theory, which Pogge mentions knowing all about in other essays:

"The sequence below would have a very low algorithmic information measurement since it is a very predictable pattern, and as the pattern continues the measurement would not change. Shannon information would give the same information measurement for each symbol, since they are statistically random, and each new symbol would increase the measurement.
123456789101112131415161718192021 "

So, according to Information Theory, even 'random' symbols increase information.

Yet Pogge declared that altering the sentence presented by Alex, even randomly, even with the addition of symbols (letters, in this case), would not increase the information.
Hmmm.... Who to trust?

Truth matters, at least in the context of information transfer. There are two
things present in any transmission channel. One is “signal,” the other is
“noise.” Signal is defined (by engineers) to be the information one wants to
transmit. Noise is defined as anything that prevents that information from being
transmitted. What Alex actually did was to decrease the signal-to-noise ratio by
changing “point” to “paint.” Because of that increase in noise, information was
lost. The receiver no longer knows that “We hope he got the point.” The receiver
incorrectly thinks “We hope he got the paint.” Each of the changes Alex made to
our transmission simply increased the noise, so that the message was totally
garbled at the end.

Providing that the original message was the only one that the receiver would want/could understand. Alex's little example may not have any relevance to "increasing information", but it is more analogous to what happens in the genome than is this notion set forth by Pogge that changing the message decreases information and thus negatively impacts evolution somehow. It would benefit Pogge to try to learn some basic genetics and biology. The problem is, if he were to do this, he would lose his plausible deniability. That is, he could not feign ignorance when his disinformation is laid bare. Can't have that.

You may have played a party game, where a dozen or so people line up. The first
person whispers “We hope he got the point,” to the second person in line. The
second person whispers it to the third person, who whispers it to the fourth,
etc. Finally the last person says the message was, “She shopped, she’d get the
pants.” Inaccurate transmission from one person to another caused information to
be lost.

Hmmm... "We hope he got the point" is certainly different than "She shopped, she got the pants". But I am not sure that it contains less meaning. The only way that this would be true (that information was lost) would be, again, if the original message was the only one that the receiver wanted/could understand. This has little relevance to genetics.

Engineers never intentionally introduce noise into a communications channel in
the hopes that more information will appear.

Good for engineers. What does this have to do with genes and evolution?

There was information in “We hope he got the point.” There was meaning that we
wanted to convey. There is no truth to the statement, “She shopped, she’d get
the pants.” Since it isn’t true, there isn’t any information.

What? How does Pogge know that the message isn't true? And what does "truth" have to do with information? Nothing. Lies, disinformation, etc. are "information" in the colloquial sense, too. Just read Pogge's creationist website and see for yourself!

Information was lost in the modification of the message.
The claim is made by
evolutionists that random insertion, deletion, and modification, of the bases in
a DNA molecule changed reptile DNA into mammal DNA. That is, these random
changes caused breasts to form, and furthermore, random changes caused these
breasts to lactate at the end of pregnancy.

Like most creationists, Pogge leases out (at least) half of the equation - the random modifications that did not work out, that are harmful, etc., are lost. Purged from the population.
Oversimplifying concepts (changed reptile DNA into mammal DNA) and making unwarranted extrapolations of engineering concepts is a poor way of producing "scientific" rebuttals .

People like Alex think that, given enough time and enough
lizards, this could happen. They think we just didn’t see all the lizards with
non-functional breasts because natural selection eliminated them immediately. We
think this is an unscientific belief.

We - we being people with appropriate backgounds and knowledge - believe that people like Pogge rely too heavily on folksy pseudologic and disinformation to try to prop up their beliefs. We know that conjuring up lizards with non-functional breasts plays well in the pews and with the dimwits that think the same way Pogge does in the first place, but to those with some basic, relevant knowledge, it comes across as sophomoric nonsense. And that makes us question the integrity of those that engage in such antics.
Of course, people like Pogge believes that fully formed modern humans were created from dirt no more than 10,000 years ago. We KNOW that this is an unscientific - and irrational - belief.

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