Friday, March 19, 2010

Quote of the Time Being #26

This one's a comment posted by thalesc on Neurologica.

Being a software engineer who works on large projects I find quite amusing how creationists look at a living thing and conclude it’s too complex to have evolved, therefore it must have been designed in a similar way to how humans design technological artifacts – intelligently, that is.

Clearly these people have never designed anything of significance in their lives – and no, putting together a display for the Creation Museum does not count.

If they had, they’d realize that the process of designing complex things intelligently looks a lot more like Evolution than the clean, purely top-down idealization of a guy that sits at a desk and draws the complete plans for something anew out of pure inspiration. On the contrary, design is a dirty process that involves a lot of experimentation, discovery, creativity (i.e., randomization), refinement and selection.

For instance, humans didn’t come up with today’s modern computers in a single try. If we look at the history of the computer we’ll see a progression from simplicity to complexity where each new machine was built on previous successful technology. More importantly, we’ll see lots of failures that were quickly discarded, and even more failures that never saw the light of the day. Of course if we look only at the successes we may get the wrong impression of intentionality and predictability. However, if we look at the failures too we’ll see a different picture, we’ll see that the technological progress is quite random and unpredictable, and that it happens mostly through the selection of the random ideas that worked.

Some people can’t see how one can arrive at functional complexity through evolution. I have quite the opposite feeling, I can’t see how one can get there otherwise.


William said...

I know exactly what he means... however, I must point out the timeless truth of the Salem hypothesis here. Rather than people with no experience designing complex systems, we're often just dealing with people who have that experience, and ought to know better.

I'd add that the more forethought that goes into a system -- the more "design", if you like -- the less complex it is, generally, because you're not cramming in special-case handling after your original design proves inadequate. This is also why we refactor.

Bronze Dog said...

Agreed. There are a few too many Creationist engineers and such who don't seem to pay attention to those sorts of details in their work (or maybe in some cases, oversimplify or idealize to maintain a stubborn streak).

And simplicity is always a good point to bring up. Often, simple designs are better, especially since unnecessary complexity can cause extra problems.

James K said...

The same goes for economists, self-organising systems are our bread and butter. It's why I'm always surprised to hear about creationists with an economics background.

Dunc said...

More importantly, we’ll see lots of failures that were quickly discarded, and even more failures that never saw the light of the day.

And we also see a heck of a lot of near-failures that linger far longer than they really should because working around them is easier than going back to square one and starting all over again.

Unknown said...


I used to work with a guy that had a "BS" (never has it fit so well) in biology from a Seventh-Day Adventist college.

It made my brain hurt to think A)how and B) what do you do with such a degree?

Aside from that he was a pretty nice guy. No preaching or the like.