Biological information: New perspectives from intelligent design
A diverse group of scientists gathered at Cornell University in 2011 to discuss their research into the nature and origins of biological information. The symposium brought together experts in computer science, numerical simulation, thermodynamics, evolutionary theory, whole organism biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, genetics, physics, biophysics, mathematics, and linguistics. The proceedings of this symposium have recently been published for public consumption in a book. There is a wrinkle, though, which may make this technical volume of unusual interest to Human Events readers. Most of these researchers, with Ph.D.’s from places like Cal Tech, UC Berkeley, Yale and Cornell, do not believe the traditional Darwinist explanation of natural selection of random mutations is adequate to explain the origin of biological information (in the DNA, for example), and many consider intelligent design as a possible source for this information.
Even though there are well developed subareas of information theory in engineering dealing with communication and computer science, a scientific understanding of information is not well developed. We are unable to agree on some of the simplest of questions concerning information. If I shred a DVD, am I destroying information? What if there is a back-up copy? What if there isn’t? If I take a digital picture with my cell phone, am I creating information? A poll of these questions will yield a variety of answers thereby revealing the muddiness of the definition of information. Yet we all agree that a picture of Mount Rushmore with the busts of four US Presidents contains more information than a picture of Mount Fuji. And a simple living bacterium contains more information than a like-sized speck of sand. Information can be etched on matter, like writing on a page, but information is not matter. Information can be coded onto energy like a wireless cell phone signal, but information is not energy. The founder of cybernetics, Norbert Weiner, summarizes: “Information is information. Neither matter nor energy.” Since it is our uniform experience that elsewhere, information is only created by intelligent agents, many of the participants of the Cornell conference think that intelligent design is the only possible explanation for the vast amounts of information in biology also.
Organizing the Biological Information: New Perspectives conference was the idea of geneticist Dr. John Sanford, Courtesy Associate Professor at Cornell University and inventor of the gene gun (or, more formally, theBiolistic Particle Delivery System). Sanford initially approached biochemist Professor Michael Behe of Lehigh University, author of the best sellers Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution, and me (Baylor University electrical and computer engineering Distinguished Professor, Dr. Robert J. Marks II.) The conference theme, it was decided, would focus on defining, analyzing and understanding information in biological systems. No overt philosophical or theological content was allowed.
Many of the symposium presentations are published in the book Biological Information: New Perspectives. The web site www.binp.org includes short bios of the authors, and a short synopsis of each paper written by Dr. Sanford. William A. Dembski, Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute and Bruce Gordon, Associate Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Houston Baptist University, were added as co-Editors. Despite the intelligent design content, the German publishing company Springer invited the organizers to publish papers from the conference. But, even though no one had yet seen the book, publicity at an atheistic leaning neo-Darwinist blog prompted an anti-ID activist to contact Springer upper management and claim Springer’s publishing of the book would ruin Springer’s reputation in science. So Springer reneged on its contract with the Editors at the last minute. Such knee jerk censorship is typical of scientism as documented in the Ben Stein documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
But you can decide for yourself about the contents of Biological Information: New Perspectives. The book was subsequently published by World Scientific and is made available free on line, here .
Nobel Prize-winning biologist David Baltimore rightly said “Modern biology is a science of information.” University of Texas philosopher of biology Sahotra Sarkar elaborates: “It is incumbent upon those who think that informational concepts have theoretical value in biology (that is, they explain things rather than being merely metaphors) to produce an appropriate technical concept of information for biological contexts.” Moving towards these ends is the stated goal of Biological Information: New Perspectives. The Editors hope the volume will “inspire much hard work on the greater project of providing a full-fledged theory of biological information, one that is free of ideological bias and gets at the truth of the matter.”
Robert J. Marks II is a Distinguished Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Baylor University. He is a Fellow of the IEEE and the Optical Society of America. Marks’s web site is RobertMarks.org and his web site concerning ID is at EvoInfo.org. All quotes are taken from the Cornell proceedings volume.