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Here’s a really interesting summary and review of Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt:
Sigh, that’s actually a pretty badly written review. I can hear the axe grinding from all the way across the Internet.
I am sympathetic to Meyer and ID, but I think you are right. It is a biased review with a lot of extraneous material. But it makes some good points nevertheless.
The arguments of the book, as extensively summarized in the review, sound perfectly cogent to me, and consistent with the better critiques of the neo-Darwinian synthesis such as some of the books reviewed recently in an article in the Interpreter.
I worked for two years as a software designer for the Air Force unit that keeps track of satellites, both US and otherwise. I have never seen any random reshuffling of computer code ever create anything workable as code, let alone superior. Adaptive computer code that can revise itself in response to its environment is a much more sophisticated, intricately designed artifact that operates within preordained parameters created by a human coder. The adaptive nature of DNA, turning modules on and off, and swapping them out, was front end loaded into living organisms, an indicator of a highly sophisticated level of modular design. Random mutations in code would at best create intricate “spaghetti code”, workable but not inherently adaptive. The existence of this higher level of DNA coding that is studied in the field of Evolutionary Development, or EvoDevo, is evidence of forward looking design, anticipating conditions that had not happened yet. Random variation and differential survival cannot be forward looking, it can only carry information from the past and cannot anticipate the future. The real mechanisms of genetic control are just too darn well designed to be the result of lucky accidents, especially since unlucky accidents are the rule when we actually observe radiation induced mutations.
“I have never seen any random reshuffling of computer code ever create anything workable as code, let alone superior.”
I am always glad to see this fascinating topic discussed. The theory of evolutionary computing — the creation of new computer programs by recombination and mutation of existing code — was first proposed by Alan Turing no later than 1948. By 1962, execution of evolutionary computational experiments had begun, and useful code began to be produced thus.
I found the following paper to be a helpful introduction to evolutionary computing: http://www.cs.vu.nl/~gusz/papers/ec-intro-naw.pdf
I enjoyed the sample chapter in this introductory textbook as well: http://www.cs.vu.nl/~gusz/ecbook/ecbook.html
In particular, I loved reading that the the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns applies to the fitness (or quality) of programs produced by evolutionary methods.
A couple of good journals on evolutionary computing:
One published by MIT — http://www.mitpressjournals.org/loi/evco
Another by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers — http://cis.ieee.org/ieee-transactions-on-evolutionary-computation.html
My practical experience with programming is regrettably limited to TI-83 calculators and (very crude) Excel spreadsheets. RaymondSwenson, with the benefit of experience, is probably right, and evolutionary computing may be quite worthless. But the way I read the academic publications suggests that the idea may have some utility.
My grandfather was a programmer for the military, starting in the 1960′s. Had he lived to see my 9th birthday, I would have insisted that he teach me to program, and I would have been able to participate in this discussion more intelligently (i.e., I might know something at all). He thought (for some reason) that an 8-year-old needed to learn a little more math before learning, say, COBOL. Go figure.
Dan, your blog never fails to disappoint. I’ve also been thoroughly impressed by Mormon Interpreter. Keep up the great work!
Thank you for the comment and links. Again, adaptive software must be designed as such. It is not a natural phenomenon that results from random errors in the copying of machine language, assembly language, or higher level human like language. Yet it appears that much of the DNA we find “in the wild” is adaptive in character. It has been front end loaded with intelligent design that anticipates future needs for adaptability.
If we did not form by wholly natural means, but instead our evolution was assisted by an intelligence (God, we’ll say), why, I wonder, did God go about it in such a laborious, time-consuming, round-about way? Why would God tweak little DNA strands and molecules here a little, there a little, ad nauseum, when he could simply create a finished product to begin with?
I can understand evolution occurring naturally, and I can understand God forming a finished product by a wholly artificial, exact, and efficient means, but I really don’t understand the idea that we might have been formed by this abominable hybrid process where God spends untold amounts of time fiddling with the tiny pieces of innumerable life forms throughout the course of history. What a mess.
Some might argue that God did exactly that in order to obscure His role in our creation — that He created the “appearance” of evolution — so that reasonable doubt of His existence could foster an environment in which faith could be exercised. But if evolution couldn’t have created us then we’re going to find out. We’re not hopelessly dumb. And instead of reasonable doubt, God will have handed us proof.
A validation of an all-natural evolution, on the other hand, would not necessarily mean that God does not exist, and thus there could still be reasonable doubt, and, by extension, faith.
Of course, if we are the product of an all-natural evolution, one wonders how we managed to come out looking just like God the Father. This is where evolution poses an especially difficult challenge for Latter-day Saints in particular.
It looks to me like life is the process of a creative endeavor of a large group of highly intelligent but not omniscient or omnipotent beings. Perhaps our premortal selves creating a world for ourselves?
Beings so advanced they can fiddle with the DNA molecules of billions and trillions of life forms but can’t seem to get humans to pop up instead of dinosaurs?
And given that we now exist, why is it that evolution is seemingly still taking place? Why would pre-mortal spirits still be fiddling (seemingly) with the cecal valves of the Italian wall lizard, or the birth method of the yellow bellied three-toed skink (to name a few examples I got off Google)?
Yes, why not? You seem to think that it is an easy thing to poof humans into existence. Remember that much of the biology of humans is the same as dinosaurs. And why not make dinosaurs before humans anyway? I don’t know the motivations of the designer(s). And yes, it is easy to fiddle with billions of life forms over the course of billions of years. Evolution takes place because it is built into the genes already. Limited adaptability is something that is often planned for in engineering and software design. The first question is not “who is the designer and what are her motives.” The first question is, “can we detect design in life?” Meyer is showing that we can.
In working with an artificial, manufactured tree of life meant to create humans, It wouldn’t take much to realize that the fish branch is not as promising as the ape branch, so why does the fish branch continue to get so much more attention?
Of the innumerable branches of life, humans represent just one, and the other branches have spawned branches after branches of their own, that dwarf our own.
Is this the product of pre-mortal engineers engaging in endless, superfluous, and inexplicable labor? Or is it simply evolution.
There are millions of paintings, but people still paint. Is it superfvluous or inexplicable labor? In any event, I do not necessarily know the answer to your question. But if design is detectable by science, and if science detects it, then it needs to be incorporated into our worldview. Because we have not answered all questions, it doesn’t mean we cannot answer some.
May I suggest that our aesthetic sense about how “messy” a process is does not constitute a scientific standard for condemning a particular methodology? To the contrary, the evolutionary biologists who study how DNA works and can adapt and manifest different capacities that were preserved but hidden (such as the ability to grow wings on insects, using recessive genes, that do not normally manifest them) attest to how marvelous and intricate the whole process of the living cell and its development truly is. Even materialists love to talk about how their sense of wonder is piqued by these observations. If atheists can admire them, why shouldn’t we who believe in God be willing to appreciate them?
God didn’t fill a sack with mud, put a door knob in it, shake it, grow a twig from it, snap off the twig, use the twig to poke holes in a pizza box, bury the pizza box on Earth, and then have Adam climb out of the pizza box.
The thing with evolution is that it actually makes sense. It follows a set of natural laws in a predictable, consistent way. If evolution is in fact false, then God might as well have used a pizza box to create us because the the whole affair would be just as inexplicable.
Why crustaceans or dinosaurs? Why an interminable and ridiculously wandering (and seemingly on-going) creation process, making every change in life manually, ad infinitum? Why would God create vestigial structures and anatomical inefficiencies? Why haven’t our backs been completely adapted to walk upright? And why would God so often make changes in a population’s physical characteristics shortly after a major catastrophic event? Why not shortly before? Or why not neither? etc. etc.
Evolution explains all of these things.
I’m not sure what you mean when you say that evolution explains “why crustaceans or dinosaurs?” The neo-Darwinian synthesis does not claim that there must be any particular phylum or genus or species. The random nature of the process means that, if we rewound time, there is no reason to think that evolutionary processes would repeat themselves even if the geological environment, including asteroid impacts, were identical. The evolutionary answer to “why” does any particular life form exist, is random chance. There is no basis in evolutionary theory to believe in the inevitability of intelligent life that can conceive of evolutionary theory. There is no reason in evolutionary theory to think that a later life form is superior to a previous one. There is no positive or negative direction in evolution, no goal, no purpose. Evolution does not predict what life will look like after a major disruption of the natural environment, or how introduction of new species from another area, by natural or artificial means, will alter the previous ecosystem. The iconic picture used to illustrate evolution, of the fish, amphibian, mammal, primate, hominin, neanderthal, and homo sapiens, is misleading in its linearity and progression. Most people think that they are the inevitable product of a process that was looking for a way to create modern man. But evolution is not that kind of process. It is a random wandering in the multidimensional conceptual space of living organisms. And if another Alvarez asteroid hit the earth, there is no reason for anything like mankind to pop up again, ever.
Raymond wrote: “I’m not sure what you mean when you say that evolution explains ‘why crustaceans or dinosaurs?’”
I asked why God would create crustaceans and dinosaurs in an intelligent design scenario.
I then stated that crustaceans and dinosaurs make perfect sense in an evolution scenario.
Raymond wrote: “The neo-Darwinian synthesis does not claim that there must be any particular phylum or genus or species.”
I didn’t say it did. Perhaps my writing was not very clear. If so, I apologize.
Why would an intelligent creator want crustaceans and dinosaurs?
I love eating shrimp, crab and lobsters. I am glad they are in our world.
Who doesn’t appreciate dinosaurs? The ancient life exhibit at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah is one of the best I have ever seen ( including the Smithsonian), and the new University of Utah Natural History Museum is a strong competitor. The Jurassic Park movies demonstrate the way they have pulled many young minds into studying paleontology, geology and evolution. From a human centered view, that is a sufficient justification for them. As to why God would want them, I have no idea, but he doesn’t need my approval.
There seems to be a miscommunication. Let me clarify:
The book at the center of this blog entry calls into question the validity of evolution.
In response, I questioned why, if evolution is false (and if God therefore created life through an artificial, deliberate process) would God have created dinosaurs? What would have been the point?
And now you have responded by saying that God created dinosaurs for the purpose of getting young kids interested in evolution.
My point is that evolution provides a simple, logical explanation for the existence of such things as dinosaurs, crustaceans, vestigial structures in our anatomy, etc. And that the existence of such things would be inexplicable otherwise.
Because he delights in variety.
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