In my ongoing search for bad math, I periodically check out Uncommon Descent, which is Bill Dembski’s
blog dedicated to babbling about intelligent design. I went to check them today, and *wow* did I hit the jackpot.
Dembski doesn’t want to bother with the day-to-day work of running a blog. So he has a bunch of bozos
who do it for him. Among them is Salvador Cordova, who can almost always be counted on to say
something stupid – generally taking some press story about science, and trumpeting how it proves
intelligent design using some pathetic misrepresentation of information theory. [That’s exactly what
he’s up to this time.](http://www.uncommondescent.com/archives/17816)
He starts off with a typically clueless statement:
>In information science, it is empirically and theoretically shown that noise destroys specified
>complexity, but cannot create it. Natural selection acting on noise cannot create specified
>complexity. Thus, information science refutes Darwinian evolution. The following is a great article
>that illustrates the insufficiency of natural selection to create design.
This is manifestly *not* true. In information science, it has *never* been shown that there exists *any* quantity that can be referred to as “specified complexity”. They keep trying to foist the idea on readers as if it’s an accepted part of the mathematical theory of information, but they even
*agree* on what it is, much less present an actual mathematical definition.
It’s rather hard to show both empirically and theoretically that something that isn’t defined and can’t be measured can only be affected in particular ways by noise.
Except of course that Sal’s definition of “specified complexity” is roughly something like “stuff that seems really complex, but which I can describe imprecisely using very few words”. Since that’s
mathematically gibberish, he can claim anything he wants about it, but it won’t say *anything* about reality other than “Sal Cordova doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
He continues by quoting an article about Zebrafish and their regenerative abilities:
>>”Interestingly, some species have the ability to regenerate
>>appendages, while even fairly closely related species do not,” Poss
>>added. “This leads us to believe that during the course of evolution,
>>regeneration is something that has been lost by some species, rather
>>than an ability that has been gained by other species. The key is to
>>find a way to ‘turn on’ this regenerative ability.”
>If the ability to regenerate major organs is hardly visible for natural selection to preserve, how
>in the world will natural selection be able to even create the ability to regenerate major organs in
>the first place?
>Natural Selection does not trade in the currency of design (ala Allen Orr). I have also argued here
>why contingency designs are almost invisible to natural selection. The ability to regenerate major
>organs is an example of a contingency design.
>The discovery by these researchers again illustrates the ID’s Law of Conservation of CSI and ID’s
>formulation of the 4th law of thermodynamics.
This is a combination of nonsense, cluelessness, and non-sequiter.
**The nonsense**: “if regeneration is hard for natural section to preserve, how will natural selection create regeneration?” Who said anything was hard for natural selection to preserve? The only statement is that *some species lost* the ability to regenerate. That is an *entirely* different statement from “Regeneration is hard for natural selection to preserve”. Sal is just making it up by *pretending* that there is something in the statement which *is not there*, and then arguing that the thing that isn’t there supports him.
**The cluelessness**: More of the above. The idea that some species lost X means that X is hard to preserve is nonsense. Change happens. Genes get co-opted into doing other things. Sometimes, under some conditions, the benefits of some trait might be outweighed by some disadvantage of that trait. (For example, we know that there are many genes that work in various ways to fight cancer. What if the ability to regenerate organs is directly tied to an increase in the likelihood of developing cancer?) Other times, an individual that has both a highly beneficial mutation and a negative mutation *together* can pass on its genes to a population, where the benefit outweighs the loss. (Cats can’t taste sweets. We know the [specific mutation in the feline genome](http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/09/cats_candy_and_evolution.php) that causes this; and we know that tigers have the same mutation. Does *not* being able to taste sugar have some advantage? Probably not. But probably some ancestor of the cat family had that mutation tied to some other trait that was selected for. And there are other possibilities as well. Sal’s explanation of “regeneration is hard to preserve” as the only possible explanation is a demonstration of the limits of Sal’s imagination, not the limits of evolution or natural selection.
**And More Bonus Cluelessness**: the fact that a trait was lost by a population doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily gone forever. It’s not at all uncommon to see some gene “turned off” by a simple mutation or developmental glitch, but to have the gene preserved. (Just look at the number of
virus genes carried in our genome!) If the gene is there, but not expressed, it’s not difficult for
*another* mutation to re-activate it.
**The non-sequiter**: the claim that this is in *any way* connected to information theory or complex
specified information. There is *nothing* in the original quote, or in Sal’s expansion on it to
support the idea that there is a measurable quantity of CSI in the genes for regenerative abilities;
nor is there anything in the article or Sal’s text to support the idea that there was *any* loss of
complex specified information involved in the loss/deactivation of regenerative abilities. It just
*does not follow* from the article. œ(Not to mention that the so-called “fourth law of
thermodynamics” is in no way, shape, or form a valid law of thermodynamics.) This invocation of
Dembski’s conservation of information nonsense is a complete non-sequiter.