Levels of Information

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, May 5, 2022 0 comments

by Steve Risner

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb." -Psalm 139:13

We began a discussion on information found in genetic material last week. We determined that “instructions” is probably a more accurate description than simply information. We’re talking about a specific kind of information here—coded instructions for building and maintaining highly complex machines. According to Webster’s Dictionary: “Information: what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things or the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (such as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects, (1): a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data, (2): something (such as a message, experimental data, or a picture) which justifies change in a construct (such as a plan or theory) that represents physical or mental experience or another construct.”

Note that DNA is used here by the dictionary as an example. Yet our evolutionist/atheist friends have no idea what is meant when a creationist refers to “information.” But to my point that a better word to use is instructions, let’s look at the meaning of that word: instructions are detailed information telling how something should be done, operated, or assembled. This is according to the Oxford dictionary. Can we see how this applies to information found in DNA? DNA isn’t the instructions. It’s the storage medium used for these instructions, and it accesses the specific instructions that are needed when they’re needed. The process is mind-blowing.

These instructions are not something that is a natural or materialistic phenomenon. As we discussed briefly last time, we’re not describing information you can gather from nature. We are talking about information that is found in coded form and stored within every living thing we find. It’s detailed coded instructions for doing very specific things. A former East German scientist, J. Peil, writes this concerning how information is not just a physical thing:

“Even the biology based on a materialistic philosophy, which discarded all vitalistic and metaphysical components, did not readily accept the reduction of biology to physics… Information is neither a physical nor a chemical principle like energy and matter, even though the latter are required as carriers.” (You can read all about this topic at this link).

From the above link to the book In the Beginning Was Information, you will also find other well-regarded scientists and mathematicians speaking on what information is and is not. Norbert Wiener, the American mathematician, said decades ago that, “Information is information, neither matter nor energy. Any materialism which disregards this will not survive.”

What does this mean? Simply put, this information or these instructions are not just physical occurrences that just happen. Information like this is something an intelligence must produce. In the case of genetics, there is an intelligent creator of the information and an intelligent recipient that decodes the information and follows the instructions—building and maintaining a living thing. It cannot be stressed enough that information or, more specifically instructions, are not a property of matter, and it cannot be explained through material or natural processes. Like using an alphabet, we can arrange the letters we have assigned specific sounds to and make words that, again, have predetermined meanings. The letters and words are not naturally occurring things we find in nature. They are just markings. But an intelligent agent has decided that certain markings will represent certain sounds and, when arranged properly, will create words that have specifically predetermined meanings.

Claude Shannon was a mathematician who first described information, founding what’s known as Information Theory. His work has been used by many in the field of information to describe what information is and what its use is. But Shannon’s definition of information exclusively concerns the statistical properties of sequences of symbols; meaning is completely ignored. This is a limitation in this original or classical information theory because it doesn’t explain meaning or intent. It follows that this concept of information is unsuitable for evaluating the information content of meaningful sequences of symbols.

By limiting ourselves to just the statistical evaluation of information, we fail to understand or even concede the existence of meaning. When looking at the statistical analysis of a certain bit of information, we are simply looking at how many letters or words made up a sentence, what alphabet is used, and how often are words or letters employed. This has nothing at all to do with the actual meaning of the text. In fact, there could be no meaning of the text using this type of analysis. It could just be a random series of letters and spaces. To put this in terms related to living things and genetics, we would be looking at how many bases were used to make the strand of genetic material, what bases are possible (this is the guanine, cytosine, thymine, and adenine discussed in last week’s post), and how often are they used. It would not help you at all in determining what the section of DNA was used for—what its purpose is. The statistical level of information is the first level and is not very useful in this context.

The next level of information would be syntax. Syntax includes all the properties of the process of setting up the information in question. Here we are concerned with the symbols used and the rules governing how they’re made—which ones are appropriate etc. Again, meaning is not taken into account here. This could be the level of information, however, that mechanisms within the cell are used to deter copy errors when replication is occurring. Perhaps that’s too broad an idea. It’s just a thought.

Here we can discuss the conditions for determining if a code is being employed. There are three things that define a code all are necessary for something to be a code (sometimes there’s a fourth): a unique set of symbols must be used, the symbols must be arranged in an irregular fashion, the symbols must be arranged in a clear structure, at least some symbols must occur repeatedly (this one is often necessary but not always).

As opposed to the “necessary conditions” listed above, there is only one sufficient condition: the code must be able to be decoded meaningfully. Are your wheels turning about how this applies to genetics?

Next, we have the third level of information: semantics. This level does take meaning into account. What do the symbols mean when arranged in specific ways? For something to actually be information, it must have meaning. This is in contrast with Shannon’s idea of information. He believed even noise in a communication was information. In other words, if you were listening to the radio and there was static in the signal, that was information by his definition. In terms of meaning, that is obviously not true. In fact, such noise can corrupt a communication and render it unable to convey information—the meaning is lost. This is why our statements I quoted last time were nonsensical in this conversation. Things like, “Information comes from all over the place.” Or “I have a geology degree and can read information directly from an exposed rock face.” The rock face is not trying to tell anyone anything. Nature is not submitting information to us via some form of communication so we can understand her. We can extract information—gathering it through our senses to educate ourselves about it. But this nothing, literally, like, say, reading an encyclopedia or a newspaper or instructions that came with your new entertainment center.

DNA is a storage medium for this coded information, which is really instructions for developing and maintaining a living thing—a highly complex machine. All suitable ways of expressing meanings are called languages. Information can be transmitted or stored in material media only when a language is available. Genetic information is stored in DNA. What does that mean? It means the genetic code meets the criterion for it being considered first a code but also a language. A language must have an intelligent source. A code even more so must have an intelligent source and an intelligent recipient to decode the information and apply meaning to it. This is what happens within living things (in their cells) all the time. It’s a continuous process of finding the needed instructions stored in the DNA, unzipping the DNA to make RNA, using the specific piece of genetic material to generate a specific number of a specific protein, and zipping it back up and starting the process again somewhere else along the chain.

The next level of information after semantics (meaning) is pragmatics. This essentially means the actions required by the information. Information was defined by Werner Strombach (author of An Introduction to Systematic Philosophy and The Laws of Our Thinking: An Introduction to Logic) as a structure which achieves some result in a receiving system. These concepts are easily applicable and appreciated in how genetic information works inside a cell. DNA is continuously causing different actions to happen at the cellular level which impacts how an organism is functioning. It takes the stored instructions and dictates actions based on a series of 4 different chemicals that are ordered specifically to achieve precise results.

The final level of information, apobetics, implies information has a purpose. This ties in with the previous level of information nicely. The purpose of the information found in the genetics of an organism dictates specific actions occurring at specific times. In short, survival is the purpose. Survival of the individual as well as the survival of the species seems to be equally important aspects here.

I bring this long, wordy description regarding the levels of information up because atheists will frequently say goofy things like I quoted last time about information—it’s all over the place or you can get information from a rock or some such thing. But they are only focusing on Shannon’s description of information which, in the context of genetics and living things, is pointless. There is little similarity between the information one may gather from something in nature—something that is not trying to express that information but is simply just there—and the information housed in genetics that has an intended purpose and a specific plan in mind for the organism. Don’t fall for their silly expressions concerning information and information theory. Shannon had some great thoughts on the idea of information but his book on the topic was written 75 years ago. We’ve learned a great deal since then. The fact that evolutionists want to be stuck in 1940’s ideas on information so they can avoid a real conversation about it says quite a bit, in my opinion.

Much of this information was described by Dr. Werner Gitt in his book, In the Beginning Was Information. I highly recommend it.

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