Can Chance Produce Information?

Can chance produce information? Is the question a Christian asked on his blog. I know I've seen it before and it's a poor argument but unfortunately he keeps inventing reasons and extra additions to show information can't come from chance. The whole argument and his question is here: http://www.thecrazyaustralian.com/can-chance-produce-information/ A definitive answer to throw back would be greatly appreciated.
Atheist Answer: 

It's been a little while, and the Crazy Australian has in fact conceded that chance can at least produce something which we recognise as information. This Australian says, good on him.

This question is a common creationist approach. The application there is that information in a genome is not seen to increase after random recombinations. The response is that new information can take the form of a decrease in data as well as an increase (my usual example is that the valuable information each week on Big Brother is who will leave the house) so a recombination, which is partly both, is definitely an increase in information.

Completely random threads of information would indeed be unlikely to come to anything meaningful. Consider that, by the way: information, as defined in a computational sense by those who wish to manipulate, compress and optimise it, need not be meaningful in any sense other than representing the data of which it is comprised.

A bit of real-world pressure makes all the difference; this is the very core of natural selection. Changes to a genome which are harmful, ambiguous or negligible tend to die out when the living beings carrying them are outbred by beings carrying directly beneficial changes. It doesn't matter what the information in the genome means as such. Only survival value is of importance, and as it happens, information coherent enough to represent blueprints for complex structures like wings and stomach acid has substantial survival value.

You know, the real answer to this question is really extremely simple. Yes, chance can produce information, if there is such a thing as information. Chance can produce anything, given the right conditions. That's what chance means.

Applied to anything real, though, the true question is, "Can chance consistently produce information?" That's a little hairier, but it's moot when applied to evolution. Natural selection is not a chance process. It mines the random element of mutation for new genetic material, but the selection itself is the original Survival of the Fittest.

It's like rolling fifty dice and only picking out the fours, fives and sixes. You're guaranteed a fairly high average score per selected die. The game of evolution is rigged in favour of life.

- SmartLX

You think we came from monkeys?

What is your best come back to "you think we came from monkeys?"
Atheist Answer: 

Well, in response to the OP, when people say such things in that manner, it usually means that they are unfamiliar with evolution in its entirety, and are employing intuitive and naive notions in order to attempt to discuss complex scientific theories. Since our intuition is often at odds with said complex scientific theories, they will run into some problems doing this. Several days ago I decided to read the mission statement of the Flat Earth Society. It was only a few paragraphs, not enough time for me to vomit, and the spelling and grammar were, um...different. Anyway, they railed on for a bit about the evil scientific conspiracy and the supposed dogmatic, quasi-religious nature of science, and then presented their argument for the Flat Earth (if the Earth is round then how come Australians stand upright? They should be upside down).

Obviously this is complete nonsense. There are no "directions" in space. The notions of "up" and "down" are meaningless. They are applied in daily life only relative to the ground on which one is standing. It is a non sequitur to say that people on the North pole should stand upright and those on the south one upside, and everyone else should stand at some slanted angle. Yet intuition tells us so. I wouldn't listen to intuition however, it's useless. Relative to the ground on which an Australian is standing, he is upright. Relative to the ground on which an American is standing, he is also upright. So is everyone else, because that is all motion and position are, they are relative concepts that are only judged in a frame of reference relative to other bodies. The argument the FES put forth above is identical to arguing that if the Earth was moving relative to the Sun at thousands of miles per second, why we do not feel this. The answer is obvious, because if we are standing on the Earth, we are travelling at precisely the same speed, and hence relative to the Earth, are not moving at all.

I picked the most ludicrous example I could find to illustrate a point. When people use intuition to try and understand scientific ideas, they will fail, and this will usually result in using childish language to attempt to mock something regarding which they have precisely zero understanding. In the irritating moving Expelled, Michael Ruse and Richard Dawins explained, in simple language that even someone with cognizance deficiences on the order of magnitude that Ben Stein possesses could understand, which is impressive. They were explaining how elaborate molecular synthesis could form on the backs of rocks, and how piezoelectricity could allow for the assembly of small scale elabore metabolism. They also explained Autocatalysis and clay theory, and the possibility of the synthesis of organic molecules in mud, or water, because of the dipole effect and the high concentrations of organic molecules. Of course, Ben Stein, who knew precisely nothing about primordial biochemistry, electrical organometallic chemistry, or molecular biology , laughed and returned to the point throughout the movie. "MUD"!! (Laughing) "ROCKS"! It was all very Hovindesque in delivery. Of course, this ridicule was all the man could muster, because he was relying on intuition and childish language to try and understand (actually, that's not true. He obviously wasn't trying to understand at all. He was trying to ridicule) something that clearly shot straight over his head. How can one present a serious critique of that which their sum knowledge total is negative (in addition to no knowledge, being in possession of disinformation)? It is incredibly easy to try and fuck up when trying to understand complicated scientific concepts. ("If Relativity is true, how come I can't go and visit my dead relatives?" ).

With respect to evolution, the problem is in some cases greatly exacerbated. There is a lot of potential for complete misunderstanding here. An equally stupid argument could be concocted by reversing the currently employed "Second Law of Thermodynamics" argument to become "If SLOT is true, how come we have all these ordered systems like biology"? One way I find that misunderstanding often springs forth is when people try to use metaphorical ideas and concepts to try and explain ideas. If the laws of thermodynamic are to be understoon in terms of "progressing towards disorder" and evolution, which despite having no implicit direction has, as a general rule of thumb, constructed more complex entities as a function of time, is creating "order", then someone naive can imagine that there is a problem. Such explanations rely on childish and metaphorical understanding of thermodynamics concepts that cannot be understood in any way whatsoever without complete familiarity with the equations. My point is, when people either try to rely on intuition, or a very meager amount of knowledge, the idea that they can "critique" a concept based on this foundation is ludicrous. THe brutal and undeniable fact is that the number of creationists who can give me a single sentence, working, accepted scientific definition of biological evolution, without consulting wikipedia, is utterly negligible.

- Deluded God
Rational Response Squad (more responses posted here)

The Great Big Arguments #4: Design

Here's a sample of the many different ways in which the same basic question is posed: How did all the beauty around us come to be? How did intelligent people come from monkeys, or oranges, or sludge, or nothing at all? How did life begin if the chances of the necessary proteins assembling was one in ten to the power of hundreds? (The next one's taken from an actual wall poster:) How can anyone witness a sunset and not believe in God? Why is there any order to the universe? Why are the fundamental constants of the universe tuned so that matter, and humans, can exist at all? How is it that we live, and live in such a wonderful world, if it all came about by chance?
Atheist Answer: 

From the development of the eye to the beauty of a waterfall to the exact value of the gravitational constant, theists may claim that anything natural with any quality to it whatsoever must have been deliberately crafted with humanity in mind. This is the Argument from Design.

Even if it were correct, it's a terribly egotistical way of looking at the world. And even if it were proven to be correct, no religion would have any basis upon which to claim that the designer or creator was its particular god or gods.

The basic answer to the argument from design is that there is no substantive evidence for it and therefore 1. to assume design in the presence of alternative theories supported by substantive evidence is putting one's head in the sand and 2. to assume design even in the complete absence of alternative theories is an argument from ignorance.

Beginning with evolution and the development of intelligent humans, there is a huge amount of geological, genetic and observed evidence to support the currently held view of the "tree of life". Evolution of subspecies is observed all the time, and contrary to a common objection whole new species have been seen to emerge, and recently. (This article on speciation has some examples.)

Contrary to another creationist talking point, there are tons of known transitional fossils. Contrary to Kirk Cameron, these don't look like half of one animal joined to half of another (like his famous Croco-duck). They're more like what you get if you morph a whole picture of one into a picture of the other, but stop halfway.

To dismiss evolution as a useless series of random changes is an argument from personal incredulity, which is a type of argument from ignorance. It's also wrong. The mutations are random, but only the beneficial mutations tend to be passed on by sheer survival and procreation skills. Evolution doesn't just try random things and get it right every time, it tries everything and goes with what works. It's like trying to hit a dartboard by spraying the whole wall with a machine gun. You'll miss a lot, but you'll hit it too.

Intelligence came about because at every stage in the development of primates, the ones who are just that little bit smarter than everyone else will always have the advantage. Over millions of years, it all adds up. Along with this comes morality (since good deeds are often rewarded), an appreciation of beauty (since it helps if what's pleasing to the eye is usually not diseased, poisonous or dirty) and emotions (to motivate us to do what's helpful to us and others).

Going back to the origin of life, abiogenesis as it was called could have occurred by a number of different chemical processes. So far scientists have used electricity (lightning) and a replica of the ancient atmosphere to create amino acids, which are pretty close. With a whole world full of chemicals being blown and washed into each other and billions of years to work, there was ample time and material for the components of the first replicating organism to slowly accumulate. The huge odds against this often given by folks like Hoyle generally assume that they all had to come together at once, which they didn't. Once one little bit of DNA was off and running, evolution and exponential growth took over.

Before we tackle the whole universe at once, let's consider Earth. Someone might claim that God put Earth exactly where it needed to be relative to the Sun so that liquid water and therefore life could form. We now know, however, that there are a lot more planets out there, and probably huge numbers of undiscovered ones. It's not that Earth was placed where liquid water could form. Rather, liquid water only forms on planets of the right temperature and Earth happened to fit the bill. Lots more planets might. This is called the anthropic principle: places aren't made for humans, humans just have a chance of turning up in hospitable places. Even on Earth there are many places we can't survive, like inside volcanoes and kilometres under the sea. So, we didn't emerge from there. Big surprise.

The largest design claim has to do with the fundamental constants of the universe. Six major ones are usually mentioned: those pertaining to gravity, electromagnetism, spatial dimensions and other less famous concepts. As is repeated endlessly, the slightest difference in any of them might result in matter being unable to form or stay together. This is the "fine-tuned universe" argument.

The problem is that even if this is true, there could still be other values of the constants which support matter. Perhaps instead of changing one or two slightly, you need to shift four of them by a huge amount. Considering that some of the constants could even be negative, you've got an infinite six-dimensional sample space in which to test hypothetical universes. We may never know whether our values are the only valid ones. Or, we may stumble upon another valid combination and that'll be the end of this argument.

Besides, the anthropic principle applies again if you consider the theory of a multiverse. If there are multiple (perhaps infinite) universes each with its own set of constants, of course we're going to turn up in the universe with a friendly combination. Other life forms may be thriving in universes where we wouldn't last for a second, and understanding how would require us to re-learn physics from scratch.

Contesting the argument from design is hard work, because to be most effective you need to know the going theories for whatever phenomenon is in question. I've tackled the most common ones, but be prepared for just about anything useful or pretty to be presented as direct evidence for gods. Then you need only find out where it really came from.

- SmartLX

Consequences of ID taught over Evolution

I thought this would be a good question that deserves an answer more intelligent than one I could give. What could be the consequences, both for scientists and the rest of humanity, if Intelligent Design gets pushed through to the schools and children finish their schooling firm believers in everything being done by a "supernatural entity" that is "liek totally not God lol roflcopter"? Examples that come to mind are an entire generation of "scientists" and "biologists" that don't understand why the flu virus keeps changing, or why the fly spray formula needs switching every certain number of years. What do you see as the consequences for the world if re branded creationism gets pushed on kids as real science? (Notice I don't dare to hope that, having been "taught the controversy", a large number will choose evolution, since evolution only gets to them at schools and worship of their BFF InvisiMan gets thrown at them from friends, parents, churches, less-than-intelligent political leaders...).
Atheist Answer: 

Firstly, "teaching the controversy" or "critical analysis of evolution" is literally teaching Intelligent Design.

There is no fully developed theory, as Philip E. Johnson has admitted:

"I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world."

ID really only consists of a series of arguments against evolution, the default conclusion of which is a designer. Teaching the controversy allows all of these arguments to be aired. Only the designer's identity is left out, but it's pretty darn obvious.

The world won't fall apart if a generation of people, and even scientists, dismiss or never learn evolution. Even in cases like flu vaccine updates, doctors would keep doing what they're doing because it works. They'd just come up with different reasons why it does, as in, "God works it like this." Nothing supports a theory like evidence which the theory itself was changed to match.

The true consequence is that we would lose our insight. We can apply proven techniques and technologies and rationalise however we want, but if we don't understand the true reasons why they work then we can't refine them or make any new ones except by trial and error. We stagnate.

As Ken Miller has suggested, a country which sacrifices scientific understanding to maintain its beliefs falls behind the rest of the world. He's terrified that this will happen to America. I worry too, but I do think some hard data showing the country's slipping technological superiority would spur some patriots to give science a shot in the arm. I hope it isn't needed of course. Anyway, I'm Australian.

Natural Selection

Natural Selection is a reality, it's obvious that something that is stronger will survive. If natural selection is so important to the evolution of a species why do humans ignore it these days? Weak people, unintelligent people, people with genetic diseases, people with undesirable traits are being made more and more equal in modern society. If evolution and the improvement of a species is so important why have we created a world where the species degrades? It seems to be the antithesis of evolution.
Atheist Answer: 

It's because we actually have little desire to continue evolving as we have.

Natural selection is a reality in that it's the way things have happened so far. It's not an ideal, and it's not something to strive for. Many biologists like Richard Dawkins openly call for people to defy their Darwinian instincts.

Species that evolve become better suited to their surroundings. Humans have now developed the ability to change their surroundings completely, so evolution no longer serves the same purpose. It's still happening, but we don't know where it's taking us. Genetic research may allow us to take the reins and drive it ourselves.

I don't think humanity is being degraded by simply making those with various problems equal in society. It just means their issues aren't as important to us anymore. Besides, natural selection is still at play because now that such people have a level playing field, it's up to them to overcome their disabilities and procreate, and they'll self-evidently find that more difficult.

- SmartLX

Thermodynamics stump ya?

Either the universe did always exist or the universe did not always exist. If the universe always existed, then it would have reached energy death according to "Heat And You" (see below) an infinite time ago, an absurdity given the universe's present state. If the universe didn't always exist, then either the universe caused itself to exist or the universe didn't cause itself to exist. If the universe caused itself to exist, then the universe would have existed before it existed, an absurdity. Therefore the universe didn't always exist and didn't cause itself to exist. Therefore an uncaused cause (not subject to "Heat And You!") caused the universe to exist. That uncreated entity, for the sake of this discussion, is God. The rest of this argument/question can be found here. http://www.asktheatheist.com/question/yall
Atheist Answer: 

For the sake of the discussion, did God cause himself to exist? Is that not absurd too? Has he reached heat death?

If the universe has existed forever, it's an isolated, closed system by definition (since there's nothing which is not within it) so it can break even. If it hasn't always existed, why can't something simpler than a god have brought it about? Why do you discount simpler matter or energy reactions, or a previous universe, and jump straight to a fully formed, sourceless intelligence? He's even harder to explain than the universe is.

In general, why don't you apply your questions on the origin of the universe to the origin of God? Is it just a no-go zone?

Jumping to evolution, it does represent a decrease in local entropy. So does building a tower out of Lego: There was no order to the blocks, and now there is some. Would you say it's impossible to build Lego structures, or indeed to build anything at all from unordered pieces? Of course not. You think God did just that.

The key word here is "local". Within a system, entropy can decrease in one area if it increases by at least that much elsewhere. In the case of the Lego, entropy increases in your body as food is dissolved and digested. This gives you the energy to move the blocks.

So a transfer of energy can decrease local entropy enough to create order and complexity. The ultimate energy source for evolution, like nearly all earthly processes, is the sun. Earth's isolated system must of course include the sun. Its explosive fusion reactions increase entropy far more than the natural process of evolution decreases it, so no laws of physics are broken.

Thermodynamics and evolution are perfectly compatible, or else evolution would have been struck down in Darwin's lifetime; research towards entropic principles began around 1803.

So that's why we've heard the Argument from Thermodynamics a lot and yet we're still atheists.

- LX

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