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Friday, December 12, 2008

Intelligent design and popular culture: Computers vs. Darwinism? A computer teacher comments

Recently, I have been reading Angus Menuge on the failure of Darwinism - from a computer teacher's perspective. Menuge is a Professor of philosophy and computer science at Concordia University in Wisconsin. The following excerpt from his book, Agents under Fire is the clearest explanation I have read so far of why the Darwinist argument that intricate machines inside the cell can be built up without any intelligence underlying the universe are unbelievable:
A Diagnosis of the Failure of Darwinism

Repeatedly, we have seen that even if gene duplication can make all the parts of an
irreducibly complex system simultaneously available, Darwinism cannot provide credible solutions to the problems of coordinating these parts and ensuring their interface compatibility.

From my perspective as a teacher of computer programming, this limitation of Darwinism as a problem-solving strategy is surprising. First, consider the analogous problem of coordinating a program's instructions. As programs become more complex, it becomes virtually impossible to get them to work if they are written from the bottom-up, one instruction at a time.

With so many details, it is highly likely that some critical task is specified incompletely or in the wrong order. To avoid such errors, programmers find it essential to use top-down design. Top-down design is a problem-solving strategy that begins with an abstract specification of the program task and then breaks it down into several main sub-problems, each of which is refined further into its subproblems. This strategy is epitomized by such things as recipes, where the task is broken down into ingredients and utensils (initialization), and the mixing and cooking of the ingredients (processing), and a specification of what to do when the dish is ready (finalization). The same approach is clear in the instructions to build "partially assembled" furniture, such as a bookcase.

First, the assembly of the bookcase is reduced to its major tasks, constructing the frame, back, and shelves. Then each of these tasks is specified in detail. At every level, the order of the tasks is important; for example, the back and the shelves cannot be installed until the frame is complete. A quality top-down design is sensitive to the proper placement of tasks, ensuring that given task is not omitted, redundantly repeated, or performed out of sequence. In this way, top-down design facilitates the proper coordination of problem-solving modules.

Unfortunately, natural selection cannot implement top-down design. Natural selection is a bottom-up atomistic process. Tasks must be solved gradually, independent from one another. There is no awareness of the future function of the assembled system to coordinate these tasks. If even intelligent agents (experienced programmers) require top-down design to solve complex problems, it is tendentious to suppose that unintelligent selection can solve problems at least as complex without the aid of top-down design.

In fact, even with top-down design, programmers find that it is necessary top do two levels of testing to produce a functional program. One level, unit testing, tests the function of a module in isolation from the whole program. The other level, integration testing, ensures that when all the modules are assembled, they interact in such a way as to solve the overall problem. Both kinds of testing are needed: it is a fallacy of composition to argue that since all the part of a system work, the assembled system will also work.

Compare the following examples.

Each football player is fit; therefore the team will play effectively.

Each brick is sound; therefore, the resulting wall will be strong.

The conclusions do not follow because it matters how bricks and players are coordinated, and it matters whether they are compatible. Say that each player is fit but that the offense tries to score only when it has lost possession: the team will be hopelessly uncoordinated. And if each player has a different play for the same circumstance, the team will suffer from incompatible elements.

Likewise, if bricks are sound but are piled at random or are incompatible in size and shape, it will be impossible to build an effective wall.

Unfortunately, Darwinism commits precisely this fallacy of composition in the case of irreducibly complex systems. It has to suppose that the independent unit testing of atomic components (which natural selection provides)is a plausible way of coordinating and attuning those components for their combined role. But it is not. The majority of subsets drawn from the power sets of sound football players and bricks will be completely dysfunctional when combined as teams or walls.

Note 65: From another perspective, Darwinism is also guilty of the reverse fallacy, the fallacy of division. It argues that because a given "irreducibly complex" system has a function, it therefore must be composed of subsystems with the same or a different function. But by itself the flagellum's motor neither supports locomotion or any other function.

(pp. 120-21,
Agents under Fire)
You won't read that in your government-funded textbook, so save this link.

More on Angus Menuge (fingered as, like, part of this evil conspiracy):

New Scientist conspiracy files: A philosophy prof responds

Dorian Gray, I hope you believe in miracles, because ...

New Scientist: More from the "just connect the dots and ... " files

Scare their pants off before they even start reading - the art of the panic headline

Still here? Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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