Apr 28, 2011

Even the DI Knows CSI is Bunk

Imagine, if you will, that you have made a discovery.  A monumental, earth-shattering discovery: you have proven that string theory is bunk, and united relativity and quantum mechanics into a single, unifying equation.  What do you do?

Do you:

A) Propose a series of experiments on the basis of your new equations and stun the world with your terrifyingly accurate predictions of the results; or

B) Do fundraising and PR and try to get your theory into high school physics textbooks while whining about how the scientific establishment is persecuting you?

If you're the Discovery Institute, you obviously pick B.

The claim of CSI is essentially this: that there exists a detectable property possessed only by data strings which were created by an intelligence rather than a random process.

Hogwash on the face of it--any string can be generated randomly.  For example, take the string: "CSIFAILS."  I just made it up, yet, it would be trivial to generate randomly.  The odds of any given string of eight letters turning out exactly that way are about 1 in 209 billion; however, generate ~250 billion random characters and you have better than 70% odds of getting exactly that string.  Not only will it give you entirely decent odds of finding that string specifically, but EACH AND EVERY possible eight-letter string will have >70% odds of showing up at least once, to say nothing of six letter strings, four letter strings, nine letter strings, etc., to say nothing of strings that spell words in other languages.  That's a lot of strings, and generating 250 billion random letters isn't a terribly difficult task for a modern processor.

In other words, generate A LOT of random noise and you will generate A LOT of apparent order within it.  That is how random mutation and natural selection power evolution.

But let's entertain the notion.  Let's pretend that they aren't lying for Jesus, let's lay aside all our objections*.  Let's assume for the sake of argument that they have discovered a property of data strings which allows one to distinguish between 'created' strings and random strings, and that this discovery overturns evolution.  What ought they to do?

They ought to get on their lab coats and get crackin'.  They ought to be doing this sort of thing.  They ought to be designing blind experiments wherein they distinguish between computer programs and random 1's and 0's solely by calculating the CSI of each.  They ought to be doing the same thing to differentiate between random series of ACGT, functional genes that were created through mutation, and those that were the product of human genetic engineering.  They ought to be explaining exactly how CSI is measured** and how the design inference is made: is it absolute, or is there a probability?  Is it presence of CSI, ratio of CSI to noise or string length, or some other metric?

They ought to be telling us exactly how they know what they claim to know, and demonstrating that knowledge by predicting the results of blind experiments.  If you really can distinguish between random noise and information created by an intelligence, then demonstrating that ability in a blind experiment is utterly trivial.  Take a bunch of strings made by intelligences, mix them up with a bunch of random strings, and go to town.  That is what they ought to be doing.

And that is precisely what they are not doing.  They are soliciting donations, appearing on TV, writing books, doing public speaking, weaseling their way into schools and whining about how the scientific establishment marginalizes them.

Everything, in other words, except the relatively simple experiments which would vindicate them and utterly demolish their imagined scientific persecutors.

What does that tell you about what they know the results of those experiments would be?

*And believe me there are plenty more than just those I've covered.

**They can't, of course, because it never has been measured; but I've harped on that already and we're entertaining a what-if scenario here.

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