A Dozen ID-Inspired Predictions
|The divine comedy
In Stephen Meyer's book The Signature in the Cell, he makes twelve predictions that supposedly arise from intelligent design. They are not predictions in the usual scientific sense, in that they are not based on a well developed theory, especially as the predictions are not linked to any designer. Normally in science, one would take observations and formulate a theory from literally thousands of them using the actual data, into testable hypotheses. It's not clear that these predictions are from such a process. Here we discuss the validity of these predictions.
|A Dozen ID-Inspired Predictions
No undirected process will demonstrate the capacity to generate 500 bits of new information starting from a nonbiological source.
|What is "information"? It is entirely possible that 500 bits of genetic data that would provide some organism with evolutionary fitness in one habitat is completely useless in another. And Meyer would probably not accept useless genetic data as "information."
Here is where the lack of a rigorous definition of terms will save Meyer and make this prediction always be true; for any counterexample one can claim that there is no "information", or the wrong kind of "information". The radiation spectrum of a star produces information about its temperature, mass, velocity relative to Earth, chemical composition, likely size, the presence or absence of large-enough-to detect masses orbiting it along with their masses and orbital periods etc. Does it require more than 500 bits to describe all the information derived from the star's light? Is it not a nonbiological source? Oh, you meant some other definition of information. Of course you did, dear. And why do 500 bits define a designed system, while less than 500 bits defines a non-designed system?
Sources of new information
|Informational accounting will reveal sources of active information are responsible for putatively successful computer-based simulations.
Analysis of Dembski's use of "active information" indicates that it is bullshit. How, for example, did NASA scientists who didn't know the best antenna "smuggle" the information in if they didn't know the answer in the first place? If this is a real prediction, why does Dembski never use real biological "active information" and quantify it?
RNA world hypothesis
|Future experiments will continue to show that RNA catalysts lack the capacities necessary to render the RNA-world scenario-world plausible.
RNA can be shown to replicate on its own, and hence it is not clear what "capacity" Meyer is referring to. The RNA world is only one hypothesis of the origin of life and other hypotheses could be more valid. As always with most creationist arguments, this isn't a criticism of evolution at all, but abiogenesis, which isn't strictly relevant to evolution. This is also not a prediction about any design model that Meyer has proposed; there is no reason to assume if the RNA world hypothesis is invalid that a design hypothesis is valid.
The formation of RNA is now known to be easier than previously thought. A study in 2022 found that ribonucleoside triphosphates are converted to RNA when "incubated" with rock glasses similar to the conditions present during the Hadean eon.
|Informational accounting will reveal that any improvements in replicase function in ribozymes are the result of active information supplied by ribozyme engineers.
See above about active information.
Information processing systems
|Investigation of the logic of regulatory and information processing systems in cells will reveal the use of design strategies and logic that mirrors (though possibly exceeds in complexity) those used in systems designed by engineers. Cell biologists will find regulatory systems that function in accord with a logic that can be expressed as an algorithm.
|The use of the word "logic" here is bizarre; the attribution of "logic" or "design strategy" is at best an analogy to that of engineered systems and at worst a post hoc rationalization, like almost all of intelligent design. It's not clear why Dembski is enamored with an algorithm. The feedback in biological systems is regulated through chemical concentrations, and responds rapidly to restore these levels if they are disrupted. There is no "designer" behind this regulation. Biochemical processes are necessarily composed of multiple discrete steps: chemical reactions that necessarily have an order; does that not make all biochemical processes algorithms? Furthermore, what does Dembski expect cell biologists to actually find that they haven't found already?
|Sophisticated imaging techniques will reveal nanomachines (turbines) in centrioles that will play a role in cell division. Other evidence will show that malfunctions in the regulation of these machines are responsible for chromosomal damage.
What is the prediction here? That the centriole has some structure that rotates, and can therefore be described as a turbine? What evidence indicates that this is a nanomachine? Serial numbers on the parts? If the argument is that the centriole is nanomachine in the same way that the flagellum is, it won't convince anyone that doesn't already believe in ID. It's hardly an insightful prediction to claim that malfunctions in centriole regulation are responsible for chromosomal damage. What's the supposed counterargument - that malfunctioning centrioles have nothing do do with chromosome damage? How would identification of the structure of the centriole support ID as opposed to evolution?
Prokaryotic cells and genetic information
|If intelligent design played a role in the origin of life, but not subsequently, prokaryotic cells should carry amounts of genetic information that exceed their own needs or retain vestiges of having done so, and molecular biology should provide evidence of information-rich structures that exceed causal powers of chance, necessity, or the combination of the two.
Show in detail that anyone has determined the amount of genetic information prokaryotic cells "need" including the experimental measurement. It appears that this argument is claiming that all the "information" present in eukaryotes like fish, lizards, and humans must have been planted in bacteria at the beginning of life on earth since, obviously, it could not arise later by mutation and selection; so bacteria must have genetic "information" for eyes, sperm, hair, etc. (however you claim to define it).
|If a designing intelligence acted discretely in the history of life, the various subdisciplines of biology should show evidence of polyphyly.
Polyphyly involves the inability to determine a common ancestor; however, the inability to identify the common ancestor does not mean one doesn't exist. This evidence relies on the absence of evidence, which is always problematic. Furthermore, Meyer never tells us why an intelligent designer would prefer polyphyly over monophyly.
|The fossil record, in particular, should show evidence of discrete infusions of information into the biosphere at episodic intervals as well as a top-down, rather than bottom-up, pattern of appearance of new fossil forms.
What do "top-down" and "bottom-up" even mean in the pattern of fossils, and how would you detect these patterns? The fossil record is far too sporadic to show a real "discrete" event, and population genetics suggest that the normal patterns of variation and natural selection can produce much information rapidly. Furthermore, with millions of organisms born or propagated each day, how could ID show the "top-down" pattern in living organisms today?
Hidden functional logic in "bad" design
|If an intelligent (and benevolent) agent designed life, then studies of putatively bad designs in life—such as the vertebrate retina and virulent bacteria—should reveal either (a) reasons for the designs that show a hidden functional logic or (b) evidence of decay of originally good designs.
Why would the logic be "hidden", and how do you define function? What qualifies as good design or bad design, other than the ability to procreate? Pseudogenes are genes that no longer benefit a species and therefore have been deactivated through mutations. The logic presented here would proclaim all genes to be therefore designed, without any link to the designer. Furthermore, designers are quite capable of bad designs as well.
|If the flagellar motor was intelligently designed and the type-3 secretory system devolved from it, the genes for that code for the bacterial flagellar motor should be older than those that code for the proteins in the T3SS, and not the reverse. Alternately, if the T3SS and the flagellar motor arose by design independently, T3SS should have unique (nonhomologous) genes that are not present in the genome for the flagellar motor.
It is not clear what is inherent about these two systems and the purported design of one or the other that would require any similar or different relationship, as design provides no temporal relationship between the two. Why would the T3SS and the motor having nonhomologous genes imply design? If the motor evolved from the T3SS, it would also be expected that there would be nonhomologous genes due to co-option of other gene products, duplication/mutation, deletion, etc.
Functional amino acid sequences
|The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid-sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.
This prediction is vague. What frequency defines "extremely rare" and "common"? What is the actual probability distribution expected, and why does intelligent design predict one distribution over another? If you are looking at all possible amino acid sequences and picking out those that have a 'function', what criteria are you using? Thermodynamic stability? Enzymatic activity? For what reaction, under what conditions? Even if your criteria are well-defined, the 'odds' argument makes a false assumption that evolution must put all the amino acids of a functional protein together all at once, de novo. Furthermore, the winning sequences of numbers within lottery-number-sequence space are extremely rare rather than common, and yet lottery winners exist. Why is design a good explanation for an improbable event?
- Meyer, Stephen C. Signature in the Cell, DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Harper-Collins: New York, 2009; pp 496-497. http://search2.barnesandnoble.com/BookViewer/?ean=9780061472787
- For a bloggers take on some of these predictions, see here.
- A series of twelve posts on the predictions may be found here.
- For a more detailed criticism of Meyer's information, see Jeff Shallit's blog post "Stephen Meyer's Bogus Information Theory"
- A good discussion of William Dembski's use of "active information" can be found at the blog Good Math, Bad Math, for example, this post.
- Jerome CA, Kim HJ, Mojzsis SJ, Benner SA, Biondi E. Catalytic Synthesis of Polyribonucleic Acid on Prebiotic Rock Glasses. Astrobiology. 2022 Jun;22(6):629-636. doi: 10.1089/ast.2022.0027. Epub 2022 May 19. Erratum in: Astrobiology. 2023 Apr;23(4):476. PMID: 35588195; PMCID: PMC9233534.
- Information here could mean many species, complexity in form or information in the Kolmolgorov or Shannon sense.