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Further Reading


What Does Information Tell Us About ID?

by William A. Dembski

Needle-in-the-haystack problems—where one searches for small targets in large spaces—are common throughout science. With such problems, a blind search stands no hope of success. Success, instead, requires an assisted search. This assistance takes the form of information: Searches require information to be successful.

Think of an Easter-egg hunt where saying "warmer!” or "colder!” indicates that the finder is getting nearer or farther from the eggs. This information, if accurate, greatly speeds the finding of eggs. But where does the required information come from?

To even raise this question is to suggest that successful searches do not magically materialize but need themselves to be discovered via a search. In other words, another level of information is required to determine successful search criteria in the first place.

The important question is whether such a higher-level "search for a search” is ever easier—is simpler or requires less information—than the original search. Work in the field of evolutionary informatics ( indicates that it is not.

Evolutionary informatics, a branch of information theory, studies the informational requirements of evolutionary processes. Its most significant result is a conservation principle. According to this principle, the information needed to find a successful search is never less than the information required to make the original search successful. Consequently, the higher-level search for a search is never easier than the original lower-level search.

Conservation of information implies that information, like money or energy, is a commodity that obeys strict accounting principles. Accordingly, searches, in successfully locating targets, cannot expend more information than originally deposited. Conservation of information has far-reaching implications for evolutionary theory, pointing out that the success of evolutionary processes in exploring biological configuration space always depends on preexisting information. In particular, evolutionary processes cannot create the information required for their success from scratch.

To get around this conclusion, Darwinists deny that biological evolution constitutes a targeted search. For instance, Richard Dawkins illustrates biological evolution with a computer simulation explicitly programmed to search for the target phrase METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. But right after giving this illustration, he adds: "Life isn't like that. Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distant target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection” (The Blind Watchmaker).

Dawkins here fails to distinguish two equally valid ways of understanding targets: (1) targets as humanly constructed patterns that we impose to suit our interests, and (2) targets as patterns that exist independently of us and therefore regardless of our interests. In other words, targets can be extrinsic (i.e., imposed on things from outside) or intrinsic (i.e., inherent in things as such). Biological function specifies intrinsic targets. Evolution is therefore indeed a targeted search.

Bottom line: The conservation of information points to an information source behind evolution that imparts at least as much information to the evolutionary process as this process in turn is capable of expressing. In consequence, such an information source:

• cannot be reduced to materialistic causes,
• suggests that we live in an informationally open universe, and
• may reasonably be regarded as intelligent.

The conservation of information therefore counts as positive evidence for intelligent design.

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More articles from Intelligent Design: A Primer

The Last Days of Darwin? by James M. Kushiner
Can ID Explain the Origin of Evil? by Jay Richards
Has ID Been Banned in Public Schools? by Casey Luskin
Do ID Proponents Get Persecuted in the Academy? by Caroline Crocker
What Happens When You Challenge a School's Science Curriculum? by Larry Caldwell
What Happens When You Write Positive Blog Posts About ID? by Mike Egnor

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