Stenger argues that there is no such thing as William Dembski’s “law of conservation of information” which states that sans intelligent intervention chance and necessity cannot generate novel specified complexity (SC).

This law, according to Stenger, is equivalent to negative entropy. But since the Earth and the living beings are open systems, … (God: The Failed Hypothesis, 57)

First of all, SC is a more narrow concept than negative entropy. The latter applies to any order, be it complex or not or specified or not. SC is a very special kind of order and so is not the same as the more general negative entropy.

Second, I think Stenger’s idea here is that new SC can be created with the help of the energy of the sun and the earth. But this can’t be right. Information is not matter or energy, and energy is neither sufficient nor necessary to generate it. There is a reason for the distinction between “form” and “matter,” the formal and the material causes. As a physicist, Stenger should be the first to point out that energy applied indiscriminately will tend to erode the SC of a system. And novel information can be created with arbitrarily small amounts of energy. (An intelligence might choose between alternatives and actualize one while setting aside the others at the quantum level.)

It is certainly true that “a living organism is kept away from thermodynamic equilibrium by its use of sources of outside energy to maintain order.” (57) But the question is whether the organisms themselves and the order we see in them could have been generated by chance and necessity alone. Yet no matter how much light we shine on an amoeba, it will show no interest in replicating into Bill Gates.

No one denies that organisms stay alive and orderly by consuming sources of energy from the outside. (We can even say that organisms maintain order within themselves by creating disorder outside of themselves.) But where have the energy-finding, -consuming, and -transforming machines within organisms come from?

Natural processes can only either degrade SC or, at best, preserve it. Now the essence of a specified-complex system is the improbability of the event by which it was generated coupled with its conditionally independent and easily described pattern. In other words, in order to infer design, the event being analyzed must be both improbable and interesting.

If a natural process (such as Darwinian evolution) generates something from scratch, it will have to be either complex yet uninteresting or interesting yet simple. If it takes as input something that is already specified and complex, then it will output a system of no greater sophistication. This is a fundamental limitation of unaided nature which Dembski picked up on. And this limitation does not apply to an intelligent cause.


2 Comments

SashaDrago · December 12, 2008 at 2:22 pm

“If it takes as input something that is already specified and complex, then it will output a system of no greater sophistication.”

You are assuming the trickle-down good falacy already pointed out by Ch. Hitchens as a fact. I know it seems couterintuitive that higher orders might evolve from lower orders, and that complexity may arise from simplicity, but that is congruent with scientific observation whereas Dembski’s ideas are not.

Dmitry Chernikov · December 12, 2008 at 4:07 pm

What scientific observation?

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