The Mystery of Specified Complexity

Cdesign proponentsists have proposed this concept of "specified complexity" into the creationism/evolution debate. It's not a new topic, but it's one I've struggled to understand because it can be extremely nebulous.

It's not normal complexity... it's the kind of complexity with intent.

What I'd like to do first is look at William Dembski's "Law of conservation of information"[1].

This strong proscriptive claim, that natural causes can only transmit CSI but never originate it, I call the Law of Conservation of Information.

Point insertions. Gene duplication.  Gene duplication (or genomic in this case) is why we have flowering plants[2].

It's like adding one or more rows to an Excell spreadsheet. You generate more spaces for data, primed with either random data or duplicate data, that's then modified according the natural rules. That's new information, in the end.

There's four corollaries provided. 

1. The specified complexity in a closed system of natural causes remains constant or decreases.

Earth isn't a closed system. We're powered by a lot of energy coming from the sun. If a giant work-and-energy-blocking sphere were constructed around the planet... sure, everything would likely decay inside. 

This is a similar "law" to the 2nd law of Thermodynamics... but Thermodynamics doesn't disallow low-disorder regions to be used as "fuel" to reduce disorder in another part of that closed system. Despite living in a potentially closed system universe as a whole, that's something we do all the time.

We burn gasoline to create order, or potential energy in general, whether we're using a forklift to stack crates, or driving up a hill.

Aside from the fact he can't demonstrate this claim, it what it should read is, "the net specified complexity ..." Even his original statement, "... transmit CSI but never originate it", affirms this. "Transmit" what and from where? Locally inside the closed system, perhaps?

2. The specified complexity cannot be generated spontaneously, originate endogenously or organize itself (as these terms are used in origins-of-life research).

 What does "spontaneous" mean? Looking at definitions,

performed or occurring as a result of a sudden inner impulse or inclination and without premeditation or external stimulus.
(of a process or event) occurring without apparent external cause.

Well, I guess I agree. But that's not what evolution would do. No one is arguing that gene duplication or point insertions happen without any apparent cause. 

"Originate endogenously or organize itself"? Aside from matter that's absorbed through the environment, no one is arguing that evolution "organizes itself". If anything, without external environmental interaction, evolution wouldn't even exist.

(Very) loosely put, every generation of a population produces a slightly-variant next generation, regardless of those variants are beneficial or harmful. The environment tends to kill off the harmful variants, leaving the more beneficial ones alive to reproduce the next generation. Over time, the population trends towards different evolutionary paths.

There's nothing "self organizing" about that, at least from the perspective of the population. It's not something that a population does to itself.

This falls into the "not even wrong" category.

3. The specified complexity in a closed system of natural causes either has been in the system eternally or was at some point added exogenously (implying that the system, though now closed, was not always closed).

I have no idea how he comes to this assertion. This is not a true dichotomy, between "existing eternally" or "added exogenuously". How about this?:

  1. A closed-system, low-CSI, low-entropy Big Bang singularity rapidly inflated. 
  2. Quantum effects added imperfections to that inflation, causing a non-uniform universe.
  3. CSI starts to arise from ordered regions being fueled and constructed at the expense of other regions. This includes the formation of stars, planets, abiogenesis, evolution, etc. Both local-CSI and net-entropy increases in this universe.

Here, the CSI is neither "added exogenously" nor "existing eternally". It's a third option, regardless of how much of it we can currently demonstrate.

4. In particular any closed system of natural causes that is also of finite duration received whatever specified complexity it contains before it became a closed system.

This doesn't follow unless we've granted the previous undemonstrated assertions.


It's apt that this is called a "strong proscriptive claim", as it's certainly not descriptive of reality. It's full of question-begging, misunderstandings of evolutionary theory and false dichotomies. 

  • [1]
  • [2]