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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Evolving Baby Computers

I'm currently making my way through another one of Michael Shermer's books, Why Darwin Matters. In his discussion of Paley's watchmaker argument, it reminds me of the modern analogies creationists use. My favorite is the intricacies of the computer (I think this is also one of Hovind's favorite). It's also argued that from within the computer you can only assess whatever else in inside the computer and nothing that is without; the analogy being to humans inside the universe assessing what's outside the universe (God).

I've always found the comparison to a computer especially interesting both as an atheist and as a computer scientist. I've always thought of the computer as more of an argument for evolution rather than against it. You can find all your favorite creationist arguments in a computer.

Evolution of the Computer
Something that is common among creationists, or merely those who don't understand evolution, is viewing humans as the end result of evolution and then asking the question: How did natural selection know what to select to get us here? They use this as an opportunity to posit a creator-designer.

But no one looks at a computer and says "How did the computer designers know how to get to the current, powerful modern computer which is capable of tackling today's problems?" And they certainly don't then posit the existence of a computer designer who came up with the modern computer ex nihilo. Of course there was no end goal for the evolution of the computer, nor is today's computer the "end" or the "goal."

Computers started out with the concept of Babbage's Analytical Machine which gave rise to Hollerith's tabulating machine. This was a very primitive machine, but it was the beginning. From there, the computer slowly "evolved" with adjustments and modifications being made to it. There isn't just one type of computer line, either, as there are branches (such as in modern times a PC, game console, cell phone, etc).

How did they know to get to the modern computer? They didn't. It was done by gradual progress and the environment imposed the conditions in which computers succeeded or failed. Some computers today are heavy on the processing side for tasks which require analysis of volumes of data whereas other computers are heavy on rendering hardware (such as video for gaming).

Slow, gradual changes gave rise to the modern computer through a bottom-up process. No "intelligent designer" was needed with the "end" result in mind to create it top-down or ex nihilo.

Irreducible Complexity
I know what you computer-creationists are saying. But JT, thou fool, you fail to realize that some components are irreducibly complex. Well, you've got me there. Remove one electrical bus or circuit and the computer fails to function. You got me there! The modern computer must have been conceived in its entirity in the mind of one designer.

The Mind-Body (err, Processor-Circuit) Problem
This is a puzzle I like to put forward to people. How does the computer know what to do? How does it know when we put in some sort of command like "print" that it sends an action to the printer? The programming you say.

Yes, but how does it know how to interpret the programming? The programming is translated into machine language you say. Ah, yes, but how does it know how to relate that language into an action? How does it know when its sent some command like, say, 10001111011010 that it knows to direct the internal, physical processes to print?

It raises an interesting question. Before we can input any data (such as programming) it must first know how to understand it. In order for it to understand our data or programming, it must have the programming or functioning to do it. But how can this possibly arise? How can we go from linking a bunch of circuits together and conducting electricity through them to the computer starting up, understanding a program, running it, and processing data? Shall we posit the existence of a computer-soul?

Computers Disprove Sexual Reproduction
I always marvel at how creationists can take a manufactured object, hypothetically apply biological processes to it, and, when the processes fail, conclude the biological processes can't work for biological objects either. The common manner is using manufactured objects as proof against evolution.

Ho! If you can use a manufactured object, fail to realize its lack of biological mechanisms (such as those necessary for evolution), and then conclude a biological process is false, then so can I.

Observe the computer. It's a lot like a human -- in fact, "computers" is what humans used to be called who computed numbers. The computer has a brain like humans, it has a way to cool itself when it heats up (cooling unit vs pores), it requires energy to operate, it can accomplish a wide array of tasks, etc. It also has several openings on it, just like a human. Some holes only allow things in, some holes only allow things out, some holes allow things to go in or out, and some people try to put things in holes which are only meant to have things go out.

Just like humans, too, computers have male and female parts. But what happens when you connect one computer's male part to another computer's female part? Does it produce a baby computer? No! Nothing happens! So, we should then conclude that when one human's male part is connected to another human's female part, no baby will be produced. If a biological process doesn't manifest itself in manufactured objects, why should we expect it to manifest in biological objects?


Whateverman said...

Slow, gradual changes gave rise to the modern computer through a bottom-up process. No "intelligent designer" was needed with the "end" result in mind to create it top-down or ex nihilo.

I actually really like this analogy. I'm not necessarily convinced (or perplexed, et al) by everything you wrote in this post - though admittedly I do agree with most of it. However, I really think the idea I quoted above exposes a fundamental creationist assumption.

There's no evidence that humanity represents the conclusion of some process.

Whateverman said...

At the very least, I rebel at any one or any thing that claims "Having an answer" is better than "Spending time searching for the right answer"

DisComforting Ignorance said...

Yeah, it's not really an argument for evolution; rather, it's pointing out that the analogy of the computer serves evolution more appropriately than it does intelligent design.

Creationists make a fundamental flaw with all their analogies by failing to realize that there needs to be something analogous to the biological mechanisms. You can put all the parts for a computer together in a pile and nothing's going to happen.

The evolution of biological organisms has mutations progressing them and natural selection guiding them. The evolution of computers has ideas/demands progressing them and the market/individuals guiding them.

Creationists fail to take into account the evolution of the design when they discuss the designs of manufactured items.