Friday, August 14, 2009

Design Drifting


After a few months of taking a vacation from Intelligent Design Theory (ID), I feel myself drifting back. This spring I needed some time away from ID. I was a little burned out and felt I was at the point where further study would take on a higher degree of technical knowledge, such as computer programming. But, I slowly learn more as I read more, and I'm resolved to enjoy it as I go and not expect myself to ever comprehend it all. I don't think any human ever can, or even all of us put together, which says much for the genius of our God.

I've just read Stephen Meyer's new book, Signature in the Cell. I knew this would be a much-discussed book, so I couldn't leave it alone. I gave a review of it here. He talked quite a bit about Information Theory, since that is what is being used to evaluate DNA and its products. I had read about Information Theory a long time ago, with the writings of Hubert Yockey, a physicist who evaluated proteins in that way. But it was a new concept for me then and I was still more interested in the continual amazing discoveries in biology. Now as I see more papers coming out on Information Theory as it relates to biology, I'd like to learn more about it.

The person considered the founder of this discipline is Claude Shannon. He is a fascinating person and you can read about him here at Wikipedia. I was surprised to learn he was born in Michigan. He went to University of Michigan and then on to MIT. His master's degree paper is considered one of the most important in history. It sets up the theoretical basis for the digital computer.


And yet, this is not the total of Shannon's work. Information theory is above and beyond that which he worked out in his master's paper. It relates information to uncertainty, which in turn relates to probabilities. It works with communication channels and the sending of information over electrical systems.

I did well in high school and college math classes, but I studied biology before the days that this kind of mathematical application to genetics was widely known or taught. Fortunately, my husband is a retired engineer and has been a big help in my efforts. However, after I started Shannon's seminal article, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication," from the Bell System Technical Journal, V27, July and Oct. 1948, I realized lot of it is over my head. I read it anyway. Roger Penrose, an award-winning mathematical physicist, has said we should read through mathematics even if we don't understand it, because we can still get a feel for what's going on. I did that with two of Penrose's books and learned quite a bit about quantum physics even though there was much I did not get.

And so I'll be reading more about ID and of course commenting sometimes about it here. It is too fascinating to ignore, that is for sure.

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Image credit: statue of Claude Shannon at University of Michigan campus, from flickr by hyperboreal, some rights reserved.

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