Monthly Archives: September 2014
Since William Dembski’s Being as Communion is released in the USA today, I’ll make this post the last in the series. To be honest, I’m a bit hesitant to comment on the culmination of the book, since it deals with his Law of Conservation of Information, on which he has published stuff before and received the usual criticism (that is, usually, ideologically-motivated dismissal).
William Demski’s two chapters on Determinism (short) and Contingency and Chance (longer) are useful in delineating ideas often used loosely, and the latter in particular presents some very helpful ideas.
I shall pass over the chapter in Being as Communion in which Dembski applies his informational metaphysics to “energy”, except to say that it attempts to consider information as a dynamic, relational thing rather than as something static. In chapter 14 he demonstrates how the universe is not a system closed to information, even if it is insisted that conservation of energy be maintained. And this applies whether the physical nature of the universe is seen as indeterminate or deterministic.
The next three chapters of Being as Communion are really the centre of the book as far as arguing for its subtitle – “A Metaphysics of Information” – is concerned. So what’s wrong with matter as the foundation for understanding the physical world? Briefly, matter cannot give a complete account of information, and matter itself can only be inferred from the informational “signatures” of the particular forms it takes. Information explains matter, but not vice versa. Ergo information is prior.
The 9th chapter of Being as Communion is important (in my view) because it brings his ideas into conjunction with two apparently disparate thinkers: the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel and the Christian palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris, neither of whom are of course associated with IDM.
In the next couple of chapters of Being as Communion William Dembski gives a fairly standard introduction to information theory, which is unremarkable but reminds me how many people who decry the relevance of information in life have failed to read anything about it. It’s as good a place to start as any. But he then goes on, in chapter 8, to a more individual discussion of the relationship of intelligence to nature.
In chapters 4-5 of Being as Communion William Dembski leads us towards the introduction of information theory by laying some semi-technical groundwork. “Possible worlds” logic will be familiar (and maybe intimidating) to anyone who has seen its use as a tool of analytic philosophy. Fortunately he uses it sparingly and clearly. “Matrices of possibility” are perhaps less familiar, but are actually another of those concepts that makes sense of so many often cloudy things.
This is the first of a series of posts inspired by ideas from William Dembski’s Being as Communion – a Metaphysics of Information, though I have in fact already mentioned some of those ideas on free will, on the weakness of materialist metaphysics, on inherent teleology and on “chance” as a quantifiable instantiation of choice . In Chapter 2, on Free Will, he references Benjamin Libet’s neuroscientific work, which I mentioned back in January here. Libet, as I said there, believes his work affirms the reality of free will, and Dembski draws attention in Libet’s work to the fact that our power of deliberation lies mainly in the power of vetoing impulses … Continue reading
On BioLogos I was challenged yesterday to describe in strictly biological terms how new information got into lifeforms during the Cambrian. There seems no particularly apposite reason for this personal challenge, apart from the inference that I have apparently “outed” myself as a doctrinaire IDist by buying a book by an ID author (as did several BioLogos writers in reviewing Stephen Meyer’s book, of course). But who knows the real reason? People committed to identifying one with some stereotype are to the academic study of ideologies what Joe McCarthy was to the discipline of political science. However, in point of fact the question, whilst entirely misconstruing the nature of information and … Continue reading
It’s come to my notice that Bill Dembski’s new book, cited in the last post is apparently not available in the US until 28th September. That makes my quasi-review probably the first on the web, which is an unintentional Hump scoop. Accordingly I have decided to re-read it and pick out some of the most interesting topics for individual posts – maybe it’ll whet your appetite for the original. But first…