Friday, 13 November 2015

Werner Gitt, Information and Pseudo-science

No, not that information cannot be explained by evolution, but that, it points out to intelligent design. And no, intelligent design advocates had explained excellently on what is the issue: http://creation.com/laws-of-information-1, http://creation.com/information-science-and-biology. I said I would address the points in the linked articles in another thread, so here it is. I am going to concentrate on the second article; I think the argument is pretty much the same, and both are by the same auther,

Dr Werner Gitt is described as a "Creationist Information Scientist" by Creation.com, though his background seems to be in engineering. This is a take down of his article "Information, science and biology", which can be found here:


http://creation.com/information-science-and-biology
Here we will set out in a new direction, by seeking a definition of information with which it is possible to formulate laws of nature.
Information is the basis of a lot of ID arguments, and one of the big criticisms of ID is that it never properly defines what information is. As we will see later, the point here is that information can only be created by an intelligent agent. Or to put it another way in any process in which there is no intelligent agent the final information cannot be greater than the initial information. Mathematically:

   If no intelligent agent
   I(final) <= I(initial)
This is what Gitt (and others) is trying to prove, and to do that we need a way to determine I(initial) and I(final), a way to measure the total information in the system.

As far as I am aware no ID advocate has ever tried to measure the quantity of information in anything!

What is a Law of Nature?

Gitt proceeds to explain what a law of nature is. He seems a bit confused:
When we talk of the laws of nature, we usually mean the laws of physics (e.g. the second law of thermodynamics, the law of gravity, the law of magnetism, the law of nuclear interaction) and the laws of chemistry (e.g. Le Chatelier’s Principle of least restraint).
In the philosophy of science, the laws of nature can refer to two things:

"On one account, the Regularity Theory, Laws of Nature are statements of the uniformities or regularities in the world; they are mere descriptions of the way the world is. On the other account, the Necessitarian Theory, Laws of Nature are the "principles" which govern the natural phenomena of the world. That is, the natural world "obeys" the Laws of Nature."
http://www.iep.utm.edu/lawofnat/

Given Gitt is citing the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Le Chatelier’s Principle as laws of nature, he must be talking about laws that are descriptions of the way the world is. And yet he also says this:
Laws of nature know no exceptions. This sentence is perhaps the most important one for our purposes. If dealing with a real (not merely supposed) natural law, then it cannot be circumvented or brought down. A law of nature is thus universally valid, and unchanging. Its hallmark is its immutability. A law of nature can, in principle, be refuted—a single contrary example would end its status as a natural law.
This is not true! Newton's Laws of Motion are broken by the presence of a huge, nearby mass (eg the orbit of Mercury by the Sun) and at speeds close to the speed of light. The First Law of Thermodynamics does not apply below the Heisenburg Uncertainty Limit, and the Second Law also is not applicable at the quantum scale.

Creation.com makes a big deal about Gitt being a scientist; how can a scientist not know this basic stuff?

In fact, what characterises a law in science is that it can be written mathematically, not that it is universally true.

   F = ma                       ... Newton's second law

   E(initial) = E(final)        ... First law of thermodynamics

   S(initial) < S(final)        ... Second law of thermodynamics



Why is this important?

It should not actually matter what a law of nature is. If Gitt can prove information cannot increase without an intelligent agent, it does not matter how we label that. However, Gitt is unable to do that, and so he is engaging in some semantic trickery. If he can pass off his claim as a law of nature, then he say that it has no exceptions.

This is a common tactic in pseudo-science. Here are half a dozen examples of something happening. Therefore that something is a law of nature. Therefore it must always happen.


What is Information?

Gitt asserts: "Information is not a property of matter!" He then uses a thought experiment to show that: "The information itself is thus massless". Okay, yes, information is massless. But that does not mean it is not a property of matter. Colour and shape are both massless, but they are still properties of matter.

Indeed, every example of information we have is information recorded in matter. We have no examples of information existing in a non-material form

Gitt claims:
Because information is a non-material entity, its origin is likewise not explicable by material processes. What causes information to come into existence at all—what is the initiating factor? What causes us to write a letter, a postcard, a note of congratulations, a diary entry or a file note? The most important prerequisite for the construction of information is our own will, or that of the person who assigned the task to us. Information always depends upon the will of a sender who issues the information. Information is not constant; it can be deliberately increased and can be distorted or destroyed (e.g. through disturbances in transmission).

In summary: Information arises only through will (intention and purpose).
 There is a lot of nonsense in there, so no wonder he comes to such a dubious conclusion. I shall enumerate them.

1. It is based on his erroneous claim that information is a non-material entity.

2. He is asserting that non-material entities cannot by explained by material processes. This assertion is readily destroyed by an easy counter-example: Gravity is a force, so non-material, but is caused by the mass of a material entity.

3. He claims information always depends upon the will of a sender on the basis of a few examples of that. This is like saying it is only possible to make a table out of wood, pointing to an oak table and a mahogany table, and saying that proves it. Sure in the limited examples he has cited the will of the sender is required, but that is certainly not enough to prove that is always the case.

Remember, Gitt is trying to prove something has no exception, so this is very important.

In fact, we can use this same reasoning to destroy ID altogether. Information is always a property of matter. Whether it is writing in a book, or a file on a harddrive, or an e-mail passed across the internet, it is always dependant on matter. Therefore (using Gitt's reasoning) information must always depend on matter. Therefore it cannot come from any non-material entity!

Of course, all this flawed logic leads him to the conclusion he wants.

Which is the hallmark of pseudo-science.


A Definition of Universal Information

Gitt's definition of information is very cleverly formulated to include what he wants (any man-made information plus, implicitly, DNA) and to exclude what he does not want (anything else). But what is missing is a way to measure information. What he ends up with is a universe with two types of entities. Those he considers information and those he does not.

So what?

Remember, he is trying to show that information cannot increase without an intelligent agent. How can that be meaningful unless you can measure the information?

His definition is not wrong; it is his to devise how he likes. It just does not do what he needs it to do. Two points to note:
Every transmission of information is nevertheless associated with the expectation, from the side of the sender, of generating a particular result or effect on the receiver.
 The outcome on the receiver’s side is predicated upon the goal demanded/desired by the sender—that is, the plan or conception. 

His definition necessitates an intelligent sender of information. Recalling this is about evolution, the question is not about how evolution can create information, but whether it involves information at all. If evolution is an entirely naturalistic process then there is no information in DNA, according to Gitt's definition.

What is particularly sneaky is calling his definition "universal information". If you read the article you will find it is actually very specific information, but by labeling it "universal" it sounds like it should include DNA.

Gitt chooses not to point this out. His argument is predicated on the assumption that DNA contains information. In fact it could be summed up like this:
  • DNA contains information
  • I have a narrow definition of information that requires an intelligent creator
  • I label my narrow definition of information "universal information"
  • It now looks as though my narrow definition of information is universal and so encompasses DNA
  • I can then conclude DNA requires an intelligent designer

It is a semantic shell game.