Person 1: "So, you see, since the derived subgroup is not supplemented by a proper normal subgroup, it follows that the group is imperfect..."
Very Silly Person: "Wait a second, the rock group Brand New split off from The Rookie Lot, and they're pretty perfect."
Person 2: "Umm... yes... Here, have a cookie and go play outside."
That's why it's usually a waste of time having a discussion with intelligent design (ID) advocates. The vast majority of them have absolutely no idea what people like William Dembski claim; they just know that ID is in agreement with their religious beliefs, so they support it.
Now, maybe in some universes certified public accountants are the people to go to when you want to understand the basics of information theory. But not in the one I live in. Christians like Barry go on and on about how humble they are, but when someone takes the time to explain a basic mistake like the one Arrington made, how do they behave? With arrogance and ignorance.
I'll briefly summarize Arrington's mistakes and misrepresentations.
1. "Correction, I [Arrington] routinely ban trolls, who then claim they were banned for dissenting." A lie. All one has to do is look at this page, which has example after example of Mr. Arrington's intolerance of criticism. Then there was the famous agree with the laws of logic or be banned episode. One poster said it best: "The only firm rule at UD seems to be, Thou Shalt Not Make Barry Arrington Feel Inadequate".
2. Showing he can google a phrase just as well as the next fellow, Arrington brings in a quote from Steve Ward about pseudorandom numbers. It has pretty much nothing to do with what we are discussing, but Silly Barry doesn't understand that. Silly Barry could attend my current course CS 341, where we discuss the generation of pseudorandom numbers in Lecture 11.
3. Arrington tries to distract from his mistake by claiming "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." No, the issue is, was string #1 more or less random than string #2? Barry implied it was more random. I showed why he was wrong.
4. Arrington says "Shallit believes he has achieved some great triumph of argumentation by demonstrating that the first string is not truly, completely and vigorously random...". Actually, what I showed was that string #1 was actually less random than string #2.
5. "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." Ahh, the traditional ploy of the scientifically illiterate: your conclusion (about evolution, global warming, the roundness of the earth, scientific theory of disease) disagrees with my preconceptions. Therefore you are the idiot! Very Silly People have used this ploy for hundreds of years. So far it's not working so well for them.
6. "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." Poor Silly Barry. I said nothing about "design" at all; the word doesn't even appear in my post. I didn't say anything about "statistical methods", either. The method I used is based on information theory, not statistics. (But Barry knows little advanced mathematics, it's clear.)
Barry, and all ID advocates, need to understand one basic point. It's one that Wesley Elsberry and I have been harping about for years. Here it is: the opposite of "random" is not "designed".
I'll say it again. Just because an event E is not "random" (more precisely, that it deviates from uniform distribution with equal probabilities) does not mean it was "designed" by some natural or supernatural agent. There are many possible explanations. It could have arisen from a uniform random process with unequal probabilities, like (in the case of string #1) a stochastic process biased towards the letters "a", "s", and "d". It could have arisen from a nonuniform random process like a Markov model. It could have arisen from some deterministic process -- basically, an algorithm -- that could have arisen naturally or with human agency. There are lots of possibilities. Silly Barry doesn't understand that.
7. "Jeffery Shallit has spent years denying the basic formulation of ID: Some patterns are best explained by the act of an intelligent agent." I'll overlook the spelling incompetence of Mr. Arrington (although it is basic politeness to spell a man's name correctly). Nobody denies human agency or the ability of scientists to detect it in many cases. What ID critics point out, though, is that those who detect human agency aren't detecting "Design" with a capital "D". They are detecting artifacts: the characteristic product of human activity. For a good look at why capital-D "Design" is basically a charade, read the fine article of Wilkins and Elsberry published in Biology and Philosophy. When Mr. Arrington gets his Very Silly views published in a philosophy journal, give me a call.
8. 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." This is a manufactured quote by Mr. Arrington. (Using fake quotes is a disease of ID advocates in general and Mr. Arrington in particular.) I didn't say that at all. I said string #1 was not as random as string #2 (in the sense of being more compressible), and then I guessed how it came to be constructed, a guess that is based on what I know of Mr. Arrington and keyboards and the typical behavior of certified public accountants.
9. "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."
Once again Barry shows he doesn't understand anything. In Dembski's original formulation, there was no requirement that the "description" of a string be compressible. (Arrington seems even more confused, in that he talks about the "description of the string" as opposed to the string itself. Does he think the specification needs to be compressible or the string? Who can tell, with such shoddy writing?) And he makes the silliest mistake of all when he says "The shortest full description of the first string is nothing less than the string itself". That hilarious misunderstanding gives away the store: Arrington has understood nothing of what I wrote. The experiment using gzip shows that string #1, just like string #2, can indeed be compressed; it shortest description is indeed shorter than itself.
Barry says that string #2 can be compressed to "first 12 lines of Hamlet's soliloquy". But of course, this is not a compression that anyone in information theory would regard as legitimate, because it does not allow one to reconstruct the string losslessly without reference to an external source: namely, a book of Shakespeare. Real compressions do not have external referents like that (except, perhaps, to the particular computational model of compression). We talk about this basic misunderstanding in my CS 462/662 course, given each year in the Winter term. Mr. Arrington is invited to attend.
Now one could consider that "design detection" takes place in a framework of "background knowledge". Then "first 12 lines of Hamlet's soliloquy" would be a specification, not a compression. But then someone raised in Mongolia would likely not have the same background knowledge. So their measure of the "specified information" or "specified complexity" of string #2 would differ from Barry's. This shows the weakness of the "background knowledge" component of ID claims, as we pointed out: quantities in mathematics and science are not supposed to differ based on who measures them.
10. And finally, here's the funniest thing of all. There are actually at least two different legitimate ways to criticize my analysis on a technical basis. I even gave a not-so-subtle hint about one of them! Yet the Uncommon Descent folks, harnessing all the power of intellectual heavyweights like Barry Arrington and Eric Anderson and Gordon Mullings, could not manage to find them. What a surprise.
Silly Barry. Have a cookie.