Jeffrey Shallit: Design Detector
|September 25, 2014||Posted by Barry Arrington under Intelligent Design|
“I don’t post [at UD] there because Arrington routinely bans dissent . . .”
Correction, I routinely ban trolls, who then claim they were banned for dissenting. I suspect Shallit does not post here, because when he does he is routinely shown to be not just wrong but laughably so, as when I took him down here and here. Indeed, Eric Anderson smacked him down just today here. Shallit pretends to be above the fray. It is closer to the truth that he is afraid to post here, because every time he comments on this subject he is made to look like a screaming idiot.
Shallit then posts my two strings of text for context:
To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Needless to say, Arrington — a CPA and lawyer who apparently has no advanced training in the mathematics involved — doesn’t specify what he means by “group of random letters”. I think a reasonable interpretation would be that he is imagining each letter is generated with uniform probability from some finite universe of symbols.
I will leave aside the swipe at my credentials. I do know what “random” means, and I agree that a completely random distribution of text would be, as Shallit suggests, “each letter is generated with uniform probability from some finite universe of symbols.” Here we agree.
Even with just a cursory inspection of the two strings, we see that neither one of them is likely to be “random” in this sense. We immediately see this about the second string because the set of reasonable English texts is quite small among the set of all possible strings
Certainly a cursory inspection immediately reveals that the second group is non-random in this sense. Again we agree.
But we also see the same thing about the first because (for example) the trigram “asd” occurs much more often than one could reasonably expect for a random string. Looking at a keyboard, it’s a reasonable interpretation that somebody, probably Arrington, dragged his hands repeatedly over the keyboard in a fashion he or she thought was “random” — but is evidently not. (It is much harder to generate random strings than most untrained people think.)
I will not quibble about whether it is immediately apparent that the fist string is not completely random. Although this claim is somewhat contradicted by his next statement that the conclusion requires close inspection of the text and deductions about what would be expected. The issue is not important enough to argue about.
Certainly it is the case that the first string of text is not completely random according to the definition we’ve agreed on, and Shallit is correct about how I generated it.
Shallit then spends several paragraphs demonstrating that my first string of text is not truly random. Again, I agree. The first string of text is not truly rigorously random.
To all of which I say, “so what?” As Steve Ward, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT, says, there are “degrees of randomness.” This concept is explained in this article:
You can program a machine to generate what can be called “random” numbers, but the machine is always at the mercy of its programming. “On a completely deterministic machine you can’t generate anything you could really call a random sequence of numbers,” says Ward, “because the machine is following the same algorithm to generate them. Typically, that means it starts with a common ‘seed’ number and then follows a pattern.” The results may be sufficiently complex to make the pattern difficult to identify, but because it is ruled by a carefully defined and consistently repeated algorithm, the numbers it produces are not truly random. “They are what we call ‘pseudo-random’ numbers,” Ward says.
For most applications, a pseudo-random number is sufficient, he adds. “For example, if you want to do a random sampling of a large set of data, you’ll need numbers to feed into the program so that the samples are more or less evenly distributed. Using pseudo-random numbers is perfectly acceptable in this case because there’s no quantitative advantage in the degree of randomness.” Similarly, a CD player in “random” mode is probably really playing in pseudo-random mode, with a pattern that is discernible if you listen carefully enough.
All of Shallit’s hyperventilating to the contrary notwithstanding, the issue is not whether the first string of text is truly and absolutely random. Of course it isn’t. The issue is whether – as with the CD player in Ward’s illustration – it is random enough for the purposes for which it is employed.
For what purposes was it employed? I was illustrating the difference between a more or less random string of text and a carefully designed string of English sentences. So to answer the question, yes it was random enough to illustrate that point.
Of course, this is all just common sense. It is inexplicable why Shallit believes he has achieved some great triumph of argumentation by demonstrating that the first string is not truly, completely and vigorously random, as opposed to random enough for the purposes for which it as used. Of course, as I have observed before, materialists like Shallit specialize in (indeed, they seemingly take pride in) steadfastly resisting the call of common sense.
I can’t resist pointing out one howler in Shallit’s randomness discussion. Shallit uses a computer program to compress the two files and says:
String #2’s compressed version is bigger and therefore more random than string #1: exactly the opposite of what Arrington implied!
So, according to Shallit’s calculations an excerpt from Hamlet’s soliloquy is “more random” than a string of text achieved by randomly banging away on a keyboard. That is a sentence only a highly educated idiot could have written.
Let’s go on:
Ultimately, the answer is that it is completely reasonable to believe that neither of Barry’s two strings is “random” in the sense of likely to have been generated randomly and uniformly from a given universe of symbols.
I have already granted the point that the first string of text is not rigorously random. Again, the issue is whether the first string was sufficiently random to illustrate the point I was making. Any reasonable person would agree that it was.
The larger point – and here Shallit gives the store away – is his admission that he detected the design of the first string using rigorous statistical methods. Wait a minute! Jeffery Shallit has spent years denying the basic formulation of ID: Some patterns are best explained by the act of an intelligent agent. Yet here he is yelling from the rooftops: “That first string of text only appears to be random; I have demonstrated rigorously that it was in fact designed.” Wow!!! That’s the real story here.
By the way, I should point out that Barry’s “conforms to a specification” is the usual ID creationist nonsense. He doesn’t even understand Dembski’s criterion (not surprising, since Dembski stated it so obscurely). String #2 can be said to “conform” to many, many different specifications: English text, English text written by Shakespeare, messages of length less than 545, and so forth. But the same can be said for string #1. We addressed this in detail in our long paper published inSynthese, but it seems most ID creationists haven’t read it. For one thing, it’s not good enough to assert just “specification”; even by Dembski’s own claims, one must determine that the specification is “independent” and one must compute the size of the space of strings that conforms to the specification. For Dembski, it’s not the probability of the string being generated that is of concern; it’s the relative measures of the universe of strings and the strings matching the specification that matters! Most ID creationists don’t understand this basic point.
No, it is Shallit who has made a Romper Room error and does not appear to have scanned, far less studied, the relevant literature. In ID theory the “specification” of a strnig of text, for instance, is closely related to how compressible the description of the string is. In other words, whether a given string of text is “specified” is determined by whether the description of the string can be compressed. Take the second group of text as an example. It can be compressed to “first 12 lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy.” This is simply not possible for the first string. The shortest full description of the first string is nothing less than the string itself.
It is true that I did not assert that the specification is “independent.” Like everyone else, I often leave the obvious unspoken. It is also true that I did not do the math. Again, it seems obvious. In a comment to the Eggs in Basket post, KF did point to the math:
I again draw to your attention, this from Wiki on random document generation in its Infinite Monkeys Theorem article, cited as testimony against known ideological bias of the dominant faction of that online project:
One computer program run by Dan Oliver of Scottsdale, Arizona, according to an article in The New Yorker, came up with a result on August 4, 2004: After the group had worked for 42,162,500,000 billion billion monkey-years, one of the “monkeys” typed, “VALENTINE. Cease toIdor:eFLP0FRjWK78aXzVOwm)-‘;8.t” The first 19 letters of this sequence can be found in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”. Other teams have reproduced 18 characters from “Timon of Athens”, 17 from “Troilus and Cressida”, and 16 from “Richard II”.
A website entitled The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator, launched on July 1, 2003, contained a Java applet that simulates a large population of monkeys typing randomly, with the stated intention of seeing how long it takes the virtual monkeys to produce a complete Shakespearean play from beginning to end. For example, it produced this partial line from Henry IV, Part 2, reporting that it took “2,737,850 million billion billion billion monkey-years” to reach 24 matching characters:
RUMOUR. Open your ears; 9r”5j5&?OWTY Z0d…
This maxing out so far at about 24 ASCII characters [a config space of about 10^50 possibilities for strings of that length], is a factor of about 10^100 or so short of the scope of config space that is imposed by a 500 bit FSCO/I limit.
So again, Shallit’s surface level criticism completely misses the point.
Elsewhere, Arrington says he thinks string #1 is more complex than string #2 (more precisely he says the “thesis … that the first string is less complex than the second string … is indefensible”).
Here Shallit has me. I confess. Mea culpa. I did not actually calculate the complexity of the two strings. And as KF had previously pointed out, in terms of contingency the 2nd string is ever so slightly more complex than the 1st. In my defense, for the purpose of the point I was illustrating (that design detection does not rely on mere complexity) it did not matter.
ID creationists, as I’ve noted previously, usually turn the notion of Kolmogorov complexity on its head, pretending that random strings are not complex at all.
“Yes, long random strings of text are not complex,” said no ID proponent ever. Here Shallit is just making it up.
Finally, one unrelated point: Barry talks about his disillusion when his parents lied to him about the existence of a supernatural figure — namely, Santa Claus. But he doesn’t have enough introspection to understand that the analogy he tries to draw (with “materialist metaphysics”) is completely backwards. Surely the right analogy is Santa Claus to Jesus Christ. Both are mythical figures, both are celebrated by and indoctrinated in by parents, both supposedly have supernatural powers, both are wise and good, and both are comforting to small children. The list could go on and on. How un-self-aware does one have to be to miss this?
Once again, Shallit is missing the point and does not appear to have comprehended the post. Apparently “reading for comprehension” is not one of Shallit’s strong suits. I did not make any analogies at all. I used my belief in Santa Claus as an illustration. That Shallit does not seem to know the difference between an analogy and an illustration beggars belief. I was illustrating a psychological phenomenon. Any time a person has a strongly held belief, he tends to resist evidence that is contrary to that belief. And to show just how inapposite Shallit’s argument is, I specifically stated that the phenomenon is not confined to materialists when I wrote: “I suppose it is a natural human tendency to resist evidence when it contradicts our strongly held beliefs. This tendency is not confined to materialists or atheists of course.”
Shallit made some trivial points. On the substance of the matter – whether design can be detected – he actually undermined his own position. Stunning.