Response to "Dissecting Dembski's 'Complex Specified Information'"
by Walter Rothe

Thomas Schneider (Molecular Information Theory Group A, Laboratory of Experimental and Computational Biology at the No Free Lunch, William DembskiNational Institutes of Health in Frederick, MD) has written an article entitled, "Dissecting Dembski's 'Complex Specified Information'"1 claiming that specified complexity can be produced though evolutionary mechanisms. In this article, the reproducibility by chance figure Schneider achieved by computer evolution was so intriguingly small (5x10-20), that I couldn't believe it was real. I got Dembski's book, No Free Lunch,2 and looked into Schneider's Ev program3 on the internet, and found interesting discussions in a couple of newsgroups. The following is my impression of how well Dembski's "specified complexity" holds up.

Dembski must have felt Schneider's Ev program was enough of a challenge that he addressed it in his book (pp. 213-218). Schneider's standard program simulates a All the DNA contained in an organism or a cell, which includes both the chromosomes within the nucleus and the DNA in mitochondria.genome that evolves 16 regulatory binding sites and a single regulatory The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene that makes a An organic compound made of amino acids arranged in a linear chain, joined together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of the adjacent amino acid residues.protein that binds to the sites. After 704 generations, the winner binds to the sites with 64 bits of specificity, with no mistakes binding to the non-regulatory parts of the All the DNA contained in an organism or a cell, which includes both the chromosomes within the nucleus and the DNA in mitochondria.genome. The population is held constant during the whole run by killing half of the progeny that make the most mistakes in binding to the 16 sites each generation. The unique thing about the program is that the All the DNA contained in an organism or a cell, which includes both the chromosomes within the nucleus and the DNA in mitochondria.genome, including the 16 sites, 1 regulatory The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene, and the binding weight matrix/threshold are randomly initialized. This allows Schneider to make the claim that evolution can create "specified complexity" that isn't smuggled in by a designer.

Dembski points out in his book that Schneider smuggles in "specified complexity" just by having a fitness function, but its not a weighty argument in my opinion because you essentially get that for free with any organism that replicates where there are scarce resources. However, Dembski does make a substantial point about the smoothness of the fitness function smuggling in "specified complexity." Nature does not produce reproductive fitness functions that without stress are perfectly determinative in a single generation over all individuals like Schneider's fitness function is. Even at the base level, an individual binding site's specificity is smooth in Schneider's program instead of being shape dependent, like Organic compounds made of amino acids arranged in a linear chain, joined together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of the adjacent amino acid residues.proteins are. A single base being off only affects its opposite partner in the Ev program, without considering how the binding An organic compound made of amino acids arranged in a linear chain, joined together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of the adjacent amino acid residues.protein's A group of 20 different kinds of small molecules that link together in long chains to form proteins. Often referred to as the "building blocks" of proteins.amino acids match up with nearby nucleic acid bases and its backbone in the regulatory region. A real regulatory An organic compound made of amino acids arranged in a linear chain, joined together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of the adjacent amino acid residues.protein is tuned to the shape of the binding site, where changes to one base partially affect the binding of neighboring bases instead of the binding of bases being individually tunable. Schneider's weight matrix, which he says simulates the binding and transcription of A group of 20 different kinds of small molecules that link together in long chains to form proteins. Often referred to as the "building blocks" of proteins.amino acids, doesn't comprehend this. Furthermore, development of complex structure seems to involve a cascade of Functional and physical units of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.genes synchronized with other cascades in different parts of the body, through signaling interactions. However, optimizing this traverses a phase space that is neither smooth nor monotonic. I think it's reasonable to assume that many The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene cascades have a negative selection coefficient until they are in their final form - a sort of irreducible complexity. Take for instance the manufacture of a tear duct that goes from the corner of your lower eyelid through the bone into the back of the nasal cavity. This is only an analogy, but if we assume one The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene codes for the x, and another for the y and z positions of the source of the tube, then none of the gene's regulatory regions could be optimized apart from the other. In addition, it has to be optimized in concert with the destination x, y, and z position, tube size, and tube material, etc. Evolution is impotent at explaining this kind of complexity, and even more so, molecular machines.

I had somewhat of an epiphany when I recognized how Schneider was able to get such a high level of seeming complexity in a computer simulation that, on its surface, didn't seem to smuggle in much "specified complexity." It had to do with setting the A permanent structural alteration in DNA, consisting of either a substitution, insertion or deletion of nucleotide bases.mutation rate to only one per organism per generation. With many Permanent structural alterations in DNA, consisting of either substitutions, insertions or deletions of nucleotide bases.mutations per generation, it's hard to target selection to just one binding site. By limiting it to just one A permanent structural alteration in DNA, consisting of either a substitution, insertion or deletion of nucleotide bases.mutation and providing an overall smooth fitness function for the organism that is additive on those from individual sites, its as though an organism has just 1 binding site which is optimized by selection. This means that if you doubled the number of binding sites to 32 per organism you would probably just have to double or quadruple the number of generations to get a specificity of better than 1 part in 1038. Complexity should not be defined as something that is achievable linearly in time by an unintelligent computer. Schneider makes it appear that big exponents in the information of a complex feature is actually achievable in nature by evolution. However, we know that this level of fine tuning is extremely difficult to achieve for single individual traits produced by cooperating The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene cascades, and is only conceivable when considering the totality of a number of minimally-complex, independently-optimizable traits in an organism. Dembski needs to further refine his definition of complexity to consider this. Perhaps this would involve something that quantifies not only the information content, but the complexity of the landscape that the information resides on also. Mutual dependence in function and timing adds to the prevalence of peaks and valleys.

Schneider et al's other critique seems to be to discount the specification part in "specified complexity" as unmeaningful to science. This has some support due to Dembski's own remark 2.5.1 that "Detachability is always relativized to a subject or subjects possessing certain background knowledge." Above it, Dembski includes detachability as something necessary for his formal way of determining if something has specification. In other words, you can never prove that something has "specified complexity" because you may not have found the individual with the right knowledge, or that knowledge may not yet exist. However, you can prove that something doesn't have "specified complexity." Evolutionists have just as significant a problem. They should be able to suggest functional genetic intermediates between an irreducibly complex function and another function from which it supposedly diverged. In addition, these intermediates should be located no farther away from each other than random chance could reasonably be expected to jump in the time since divergence. There are a limited number of test cases evolution would have had to create complexity. We should be able to get a rough figure for this. I would guess it's something like 10 thousand trillion for land vertebrates. Duplicated Sequence of DNA that are very similar to normal genes but that has been altered so they are not expressed.pseudogenes or DNA that does not carry the information necessary to make a protein.non-coding regions in the All the DNA contained in an organism or a cell, which includes both the chromosomes within the nucleus and the DNA in mitochondria.genome of the size of a typical The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene, with no "stop" code, only remain within a All the DNA contained in an organism or a cell, which includes both the chromosomes within the nucleus and the DNA in mitochondria.genome for a limited amount of time before they become too short to be useful for anything. It seems to me that we might try researching what kind of complexity a genetic algorithm can produce with this limited number of test cases. I bet it's not much.

Molecular Evolution by Wen Hsiung Li,4  says "There is now ample evidence that The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene duplication is the most important mechanism for generating new Functional and physical units of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.genes and new biochemical processes that have facilitated the evolution of complex organisms from primitive ones." Assuming this is true and that even Darwinists admit there must be at least something like 512 steps to create a new function, we would expect to find many The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene duplicates that are genetic intermediates - close to the size of an average The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene (>300 Sequences of three adjacent nucleotides on a strand of DNA or RNA that specifies the genetic code information for encoding a specific amino acid into a polypeptide chain.codons), without a "stop" A specific sequence of three adjacent nucleotides on a strand of DNA or RNA that specifies the genetic code information for encoding a specific amino acid into a polypeptide chain.codon in the coding part, and with a properly located and at least minimally effective The part of a gene that contains the information to turn the gene on or off.promoter and TFIIB binding regions. There is also likely the need for the intermediate to have a The order of nucleotides in a DNA or RNA molecule, or the order of amino acids in a protein molecule.sequence-specific region nearby to trigger Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms.DNA rearrangement and expose the The part of a gene that contains the information to turn the gene on or off.promoter region for transcription. A secondary mechanism for the source of genetic raw material for the evolution of complexity, namely the co-opting of one of the two Variant forms of a gene at a particular locus, or location, on a chromosome.alleles of a polymorphic The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene and slowly modifying one of them, has a similar expectation, in that we should expect to find many Variant forms of a gene at a particular locus, or location, on a chromosome.alleles in our genome that have different shapes and functions, with both having a positive selection coefficient in the same The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.gene. These things should be able to be verified now that the physical All the DNA contained in an organism or a cell, which includes both the chromosomes within the nucleus and the DNA in mitochondria.genome mapping of humans is basically complete. So far, no evolutionist has provided any genetic evidence of the plethora of intermediates that would be necessary to affirm their mechanism of producing complexity. If anyone has substantial evidence for the evolution of complexity or wants to engage in a technical discussion on the issue, please write through the email link below.

Walter Rothe


Creation As Science: A Testable Model 
	Approach to End the Creation/evolution WarsReasons To Believe's third in a series of books proposing a testable creation model takes on the origin and design of the universe. Previous books, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off and Who Was Adam?: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man, examined the origin of life on earth and the origin of mankind, respectively. Creation As Science develops a biblical creation model and compares the predictions of this model compared to a naturalistic model, young earth creationism, and theistic evolution. This biblical creation model is divided into four main areas, the origin of the universe, the origin of the Solar System, the history of life on earth, and the origin and history of mankind.

The Edge of evolutionThe Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism by Michael Behe

Darwin's Black Box author Michael Behe takes on the limits of evolution through an examination of specific genetic examples. Behe finds that mutation and natural selection is capable of generating trivial examples of evolutionary change. Although he concludes that descent with modification has occurred throughout biological history, the molecular devices found throughout nature cannot be accounted for through natural selection and mutation. Behe's book claims to develop a framework for testing intelligent design by defining the principles by which Darwinian evolution can be distinguished from design.


References Top of page

  1. Schneider, T.D. 2002. Dissecting Dembski's "Complex Specified Information". ().
  2. Dembski, W.A. 2001.  No Free Lunch. Rowman & Littlefield.
  3. Schneider, T.D. 2002. ev: Evolution of Biological Information.
  4. Dan Graur and Wen-Hsiung Li. 1997.  Fundamentals of Molecular EvolutionFundamentals of Molecular Evolution. Sinauer Assoc. P. 269.
     

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