Evolution is not design

This is a continuation of an earlier OP. Design by Evolution

When we think of design, it is usually in the context of solving some sort of problem, … To be effective, the design must address a purpose to be achieved. … Thus, effective design requires some feedback mechanism to the designer.

But perhaps we can fit the square peg of purposeless blind watchmaker evolution into the round hole of purposeful intelligent design.

Some people here at TSZ seem to think that no one ever claimed that evolution is a designer. So let’s remind them.

As has been argued many times for more than 150 years, evolution, a design process that is ancient to the extreme, serves as a designer – the blind watchmaker – by using the process of random variation and natural selection, iterated over generations. The concept of design is usually connected with intelligence, and yet evolution – a simple process resulting from reproducing organisms with variation competing for finite resources – can itself efficiently design wondrous creatures, each of which finds different solutions to its primary problem: the problem of survival. It is natural to look to evolution for inspiration on how to create algorithms that can design solutions to our own challenging problems.

And:

It should be no surprise that computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, robotocists, and biologists alike have made considerable efforts to program evolution into algorithms. … Even in the initial phases of this body of research into what is now called evolutionary computation there were examples of evolutionary algorithms used to create artificial intelligence, design mechanical devices, discover optimal strategies in games, and many other tasks that require the act of designing a solution to a problem.

It seems to me that programming blind purposelessness into an algorithm is a self-defeating proposition.

And finally:

Evolution is a creative process in every sense of the word creative.

As such, the teaching of evolution in public schools in the US is blatantly unconstitutional.

These quotes are from the Forward to the book Design by Evolution. Tom English and co-author Garrison W. Greenwood even contributed a chapter to this book. So first I would like to ask Tom English to say how strongly he agrees with or disagrees with the sentiments expressed in the forward to this book.

48 thoughts on “Evolution is not design

  1. Is evolution a designer? Is evolution a design process?

    If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then how ought evolution be modeled? If the answer to those questions is no, then how ought evolution be modeled?

    IMO, proponents of evolution need to drop all talk of evolution as design/designer. But they just don’t seem capable of dong so. Why not?

  2. But perhaps we can fit the square peg of purposeless blind watchmaker evolution into the round hole of purposeful intelligent design.

    That expression “purposeless blind watchmaker evolution” seems absurd to me. And no, I have not read the relevant Dawkins book.

    Is evolution a designer? Is evolution a design process?

    It depends on what one means by “designer” and “design process”.

    In the case of what you, Mung, mean by those terms, the answers are probably “no” and “no”.

  3. Neil Rickert: It depends on what one means by “designer” and “design process”.

    In the case of what you, Mung, mean by those terms, the answers are probably “no” and “no”.

    Except the OP is about specific claims made in a specific book. So really it’s about what they mean, not about what I mean. If you can’t agree with them because you don’t know what they mean then just say so. If you agree with them in spite of the fact that you don’t know what they mean then just say so.

    If you have nothing of relevance to offer, well, you can take comfort that you fit right in here at TSZ with the rest of the “ID critics.”

  4. Mung: Except the OP is about specific claims made in a specific book. So really it’s about what they mean, not about what I mean.

    I was responding to a particular question. Shouldn’t I go by the meaning intended by the questioner?

    For myself, I don’t have a problem with the idea that evolution is a designer. But I recognize that ID proponents have a different view of design, so would disagree.

  5. Neil Rickert: I don’t have a problem with the idea that evolution is a designer.

    Typical Rickert. Do you have a problem with the idea that evolution is not a designer? Or is your comfort zone restricted to fence-sitting? Take a position Neil. Do you agree with the claim that evolution is a designer?

    Do you also agree with the claim that evolution is a design process?

  6. Again we have Mung’s equivocation between verb and noun. Evolution is a process that produces a variety of results. If we call these results “designs”, then evolution is a design process. But nowhere in these terms do we find any motivation, intent, or deliberate goal-orientation. Evolution produces “designs” in the same way that gravity and rainfall produce watersheds. Are watersheds “designs”? They sure LOOK like designs. So can we presume a designer? Would weather and terrain patterns count as designers?

    Alternatively, we might say that either ANY process that produces results is a design process, or that SOME results are from design processes while others are not.

    I took pictures of the rock formations in goblin valley state park, Utah. Anyone would say these are designs – and many of them look very much like cartoon goblins. So were the erosion processes that made them “designers”? Aren’t all of these sculptures creations? If not, why not?

    I read the quotes in the OP as saying that any process that produces what we might call designs, MUST BE a design process. There is no need for any such process to be deliberate, intelligent, or have any goals.

  7. Flint: Again we have Mung’s equivocation between verb and noun.

    Hilarious. I quote a book and the best Flint can do is accuse me of equivocation, demanding that we ignore the cited text and attribute their claims to me. It doesn’t get any better than that. The best of TSZ.

  8. Flint: Evolution is a process that produces a variety of results. If we call these results “designs”, then evolution is a design process.

    And if we call these results banana splits, then, of course that is what they are! And evolution is a banana split making process!

    Flint appears to be completely lost. But at least banana splits are tasty!

    I could not have hoped for a better defense of the claim that evolution is a design process and that evolution is a designer than the two offered by Neil and Flint.

    If it’s true, it must be true, because we say so!

  9. Flint: I read the quotes in the OP as saying that any process that produces what we might call designs, MUST BE a design process. There is no need for any such process to be deliberate, intelligent, or have any goals.

    LoL. Those claims don’t need to be supported. You’ve been Flinted!

  10. Mung: Do you have a problem with the idea that evolution is not a designer?

    No, I don’t have a problem with that.

    I take it that people who think evolution is not a design (a) mean something different by design or (b) don’t understand evolution (or both).

    Take a position Neil.

    I’ve taken a position, even if you don’t recognize it.

    Many disagreements are not really disagreements over fact; they are disagreements over meaning. People argue over what they personally mean, not over rigid dictionary definitions.

  11. Mung: And if we call these results banana splits, then, of course that is what they are! And evolution is a banana split making process!

    You have inadvertently made my point for me. Evolution works the way it works, producing the results it produces. You are nattering about what we should CALL those things, as though if we pick misleading labels, the process somehow is misleading. Yes, if we choose, we can call the results banana splits, PROVIDED we agree on exactly what we mean by this term.

    You seem to be totally confused as to what you MEAN by “design” or “designer”. It seems to mean whatever you decide it means this time. If you cannot define your terms, admit it. If you WILL not define your terms, so that you can mock anyone who uses your terms differently, admit it. Make up your mind.

  12. Neil Rickert:
    Many disagreements are not really disagreements over fact; they are disagreements over meaning.People argue over what they personally mean, not over rigid dictionary definitions.

    I don’t think Mung is disagreeing over meaning, I think he’s using multiple meanings so he can call “gotcha” whichever meaning you guess he’s using. He then adopts the tired stratagem of using mocking attacks against you.

    Here’s my bet that Mung will never come out and clearly say what he means.

  13. Neil Rickert: I’ve taken a position, even if you don’t recognize it.

    I recognize it. It’s taking a position without taking a position. You’re clearly on the fence. You’re comfortable with either position, even if they are contradictory positions. Because they enable you to equivocate. You’ve made no clams, therefore you don’t have to defend the nonsensical claims you’ve made.

    Rickertism.

  14. Flint: Here’s my bet that Mung will never come out and clearly say what he means.

    The OP is about specific claims made in a specific book. They were not claims that I made. If you don’t like them just say so. If you aren’t willing to defend them just say so.

    If you want to claim that no one ever said what I have clearly demonstrated that they did say, just say so.

  15. I will not notice, since I gave up hoping mung would have something interesting to say, and quit reading him. I see bits and pieces in quotes, and it doesn’t entice me.

  16. petrushka: I will not notice, since I gave up hoping mung would have something interesting to say, and quit reading him. I see bits and pieces in quotes, and it doesn’t entice me.

    You’re a model citizen here at TSZ.

  17. Mung: The OP is about specific claims made in a specific book. They were not claims that I made. If you don’t like them just say so. If you aren’t willing to defend them just say so.

    If you want to claim that no one ever said what I have clearly demonstrated that they did say, just say so.

    OK, I agree with the quotes. I think evolution is a design process, and I think living organisms qualify as designs. I’m aware that some aspects of the evolutionary design process have been co-opted into some computer programs in order to solve certain problems more efficiently, but I would not say these programs are, or are intended to be, models of evolution. At most, they provide insights by illustrating some aspects of evolution in simple ways.

    I don’t understand how anyone could say that evolution is NOT creative.

  18. Flint: I don’t understand how anyone could say that evolution is NOT creative.

    That’s not the question. The question is whether “Evolution is a creative process in every sense of the word creative.”

    Evolution is Godlike. Evolution ought not be taught in public schools.

  19. Mung: That’s not the question. The question is whether “Evolution is a creative process in every sense of the word creative.”

    Evolution is Godlike.Evolution ought not be taught in public schools.

    I don’t understand this comment. Yes, evolution is a creative process in every sense of the word creative. Children are also creative in every sense of the word. Apparently, you believe in a god who shares characteristics with evolution and with children. But that doesn’t make children or evolution into a god. Sheesh, as a programmer I created new things every day. But nobody suggested that I (or any parent, any engineer, any artist) should be banned from public schools. Nobody worships any of these. (Although I admit I sometimes have as much trouble understanding women as you have understanding evolution.)

  20. Mung:

    Could you provide a longer quote ( creative) to help see what the authors meant more precisely? Thanks

  21. Mung: That’s not the question. The question is whether “Evolution is a creative process in every sense of the word creative.”

    No. Because one sense of the word involves forethought and planning.

    But if you are defining the word in the same way that we say that plate tectonics is responsible for creating the mountains, then yes, evolution is a creative process.

  22. Clearly evolution is a creative process. I’m not going to get into quibbling over whether or not it is so in every sense of the word, but, if it can’t make a steam engine, it can make a woman, so it’s amazingly creative.

    The problem is in calling it design, which really stretches that word beyond typical use and, generally, beyond the utility of that word. Do supernovae design elements and stellar systems too? I’d say that supernovae create them, and not that they design them. That said, the passage makes good points about what evolution does, and how designers do use evolutionary algorithms in order design.

    I haven’t tended to argue much about these matters, since it’s really about words and not about the issues. I argued recently about it because my distinction between design and evolution was disagreed with, and really, I just don’t get why we should destroy a useful word like “design,” especially in these matters. Here I mention it for the same reason, and because the issue of the word was raised. Other than that, the passage is doing a fine job of discussing the similarities between design and evolution.

    Glen Davidson

  23. I think I follow the chain, finally.
    evolution->design
    design->creation
    creation->creator
    creator->Mung’s god
    Therefore, evolution is a religion.

    Sheesh.

  24. Flint:
    I think I follow the chain, finally.
    evolution->design
    design->creation
    creation->creator
    creator->Mung’s god
    Therefore, evolution is a religion.

    Sheesh.

    It looks like you slipped on a patch of equivocation and fell into the MungHole.

  25. newton: Could you provide a longer quote ( creative) to help see what the authors meant more precisely? Thanks

    I are not David Fogel.

    Mung has caught on to the fact that Marks, Dembski, and Ewert failed utterly in the project of evolutionary informatics. He wants desperately to change the topic. I’m not going to help him do that.

  26. Tom English: I are not David Fogel.

    Neither am I . The sentence that has mung all a flutter looked lonely. Just curious what its context was.

    Mung has caught on to the fact that Marks, Dembski, and Ewert failed utterly in the project of evolutionary informatics.

    Not utterly, they are still selling books.

    He wants desperately to change the topic.

    mung persists.

    I’m not going to help him do that.

    Sounds reasonable.

  27. newton,

    Well, for a friend, I guess…

    When we think of design, it is usually in the context of solving some sort of problem, such as the design of a bridge, a city, or a song. To be effective, thedesign must address a purpose to be achieved. In the case of a bridge or acity, the parameters of interest can be quantified. In the case of a bridge, theymight include facets such as structural integrity, maximum carrying capacity,and cost, or in the case of a city, traffic flow, resource utilization, safety, andalso again cost. In the case of a song, things are not as clear. The time-honoredsaying of beauty residing in the eye (or in this case, the ear) of the beholderremains true. Yet, a person can at least offer guidance about whether or not asong is to his or her liking, or perhaps more enjoyable than some other song.Thus, effective design requires some feedback mechanism to the designer.

    As has been argued many times for more than 150 years, evolution, a de-sign process that is ancient to the extreme, serves as a designer – the blindwatchmaker – by using the process of random variation and natural selection,iterated over generations. The concept of design is usually connected withintelligence, and yet evolution – a simple process resulting from reproducingorganisms with variation competing for finite resources – can itself efficientlydesign wondrous creatures, each of which finds different solutions to its pri-mary problem: the problem of survival. It is natural to look to evolution forinspiration on how to create algorithms that can design solutions to our ownchallenging problems.

    It should be no surprise then that computer scientists, engineers, mathe-maticians, roboticists, and biologists alike have made considerable efforts toprogram evolution into algorithms. Such efforts now span at least 55 years,dating back to Nils Barricelli’s pioneering work on artificial life algorithmsat von Neumann’s laboratory at Princeton University in 1953. Even in theinitial phases of this body of research into what is now called evolutionarycomputation there were examples of evolutionary algorithms used to createartificial intelligence, design mechanical devices, discover optimal strategies ingames, and many other tasks that require the act of designing a solution to aproblem.

    […]

    Design and creativity are strongly connected concepts, but this is not anovel recognition. Over 40 years ago, Fogel et al. [2] argued that the processof evolution is analogous to the process of the scientific method, a processthat can be simulated as an evolutionary program, in which “the process of induction [is] reduced to a routine procedure. If ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’are requisite attributes of this process, then these too have been realized.”Even now, this concept may seem provocative to some. It was more thanprovocative in the 1960s, eliciting dismissive comments that such ideas werenothing more than “fustian [that] may unfortunately alienate many … fromthe important work being done in artificial intelligence” [3]. Yet, what wordsof attribution then would be appropriate for an antenna designed for a spaceapplication by an evolutionary algorithm [4] that featured a brand new config-uration and comments from traditional antenna designers of “we were afraidthis was going to happen”? What words of attribution would be appropriatefor an evolutionary program – Blondie24 – that taught itself to play checkersat a level commensurate with human experts without using human expertiseabout how to play checkers [1], when human opponents routinely praised theprogram’s “good moves” and even observed that the program was “clampingdown on mobility”? Blondie24 had no preprogrammed concept of mobility.Evidently, it created the concept of mobility.

    Computers can become creative designers by using evolutionary processes.Random variation is a key component of this creativity, for random variationis what provides the element of surprise that can generate something trulynovel, something beyond just shifting and sifting through combinations of pieces of existing solutions. It is ironic, perhaps, that so much of engineeringis aimed at removing noise and yet noise is an integral part of the ingenuitythat engineering requires!

    Evolution is a creative process in every sense of the word creative. I ex-pect that you will find the contributions in this book to provide a currentaccounting of the potential for using an evolutionary paradigm for creatingnovel designs in the four main topic areas discussed. I also expect that you willfind these contributions creative in their own right, and illustrative of whatwe may expect in terms of automating the process of design in the future.

    –David Fogel, Foreword to Design by Evolution

  28. One of Lizzie’s favorite points was that evolution by natural selection satisfies a definition of intelligence that Dembski gave. Perhaps Dembski had seen that for himself, back in 2008, when he and Marks proclaimed, “Darwinian evolution is inherently teleological.”

  29. The theory of evolution links random variation and selection to incremental adaptation. In a different intellectual domain, learning theory links incremental adaptation (e.g., from positive and/or negative reinforcement) to intelligent behaviour. Specifically, learning theory explains how incremental adaptation can acquire knowledge from past experience and use it to direct future behaviours toward favourable outcomes. Until recently such cognitive learning seemed irrelevant to the ‘uninformed’ process of evolution. In our opinion, however, new results formally linking evolutionary processes to the principles of learning might provide solutions to several evolutionary puzzles – the evolution of evolvability, the evolution of ecological organisation, and evolutionary transitions in individuality. If so, the ability for evolution to learn might explain how it produces such apparently intelligent designs.

    http://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/fulltext/S0169-5347(15)00293-1

    LoL.

  30. Mung: If so, the ability for evolution to learn might explain how it produces such apparently intelligent designs.

    Apparently its apparent to pretty much everyone.

  31. Mung: If you’re going to be an evolutionist, you absolutely need a designer.

    But not an intelligent designer with a predetermined goal. Maybe ID should change its name. Again.

    Change 1: Creationism ==> Scientific Creationism
    Change 2: Scientific Creationism ==> Intelligent Design
    Change 3: Intelligent Design ==> Design.

    If nothing else, it will keep the editors of Of Pandas and People busy.

  32. In reality, humans are able to tune an EC to a fitness function only when the fitness function is not a black box. Only when one knows some property or properties of the fitness function can one select an EC that is expected to outperform random sampling.

    – Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Computation

  33. Mung quoted:

    In reality, humans are able to tune an EC to a fitness function only when the fitness function is not a black box. Only when one knows some property or properties of the fitness function can one select an EC that is expected to outperform random sampling.

    – Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Computation

    Wrong, as Tom and I showed when we demonstrated that a simple uphill climber on a “white noise” fitness surface substantially outperformed taking a single randomly sampled genotype.

  34. Joe Felsenstein: Wrong, as Tom and I showed when we demonstrated that a simple uphill climber on a “white noise” fitness surface substantially outperformed taking a single randomly sampled genotype.

    Mung has cleverly switched to quoting Garry Greenwood and me. We’re referring to a finite sequence generated by uniform random sampling without replacement. (All of the NFL results are for sampling without replacement.) And I should remind everyone that the fitness function is given as part of the problem in the NFL analytic framework, and that Dembski, Ewert, and Marks make it part of the solution process in their framework.

  35. Tom English: Mung has cleverly switched to quoting Garry Greenwood and me. We’re referring to a finite sequence generated by uniform random sampling without replacement.

    Tactically clever of Mung. For the case we investigated, comparing looking at n neighboring genotypes is the same as looking at n randomly-chosen genotypes, since the case has fitnesses assigned to genotypes at random. I had assumed that the quote was from one of Marks, Dembski, or Ewert. They argued that using an “evolutionary search” was no better than choosing one random genotype. Which is what I thought the quote was saying. And saying that would have been very wrong.

  36. Joe Felsenstein: I had assumed that the quote was from one of Marks, Dembski, or Ewert. They argued that using an “evolutionary search” was no better than choosing one random genotype. Which is what I thought the quote was saying. And saying that would have been very wrong.

    Mung apparently believes that he’s caught me saying what Marks, Dembski, and Ewert say. It’s the old “you agree with us, but you won’t admit it” bit.

  37. Tom English: Mung apparently believes that he’s caught me saying what Marks, Dembski, and Ewert say.

    Maybe I caught them saying what you say. 😉

    Either way, Joe thought it was wrong. One can understand his thinking I suppose. If DEM said it, it’s wrong.

  38. Mung: IMO, proponents of evolution need to drop all talk of evolution as design/designer. But they just don’t seem capable of dong so. Why not?

    Some do, some don’t. I never refer to things that evolve as “designs”. But when religious people, and some evolutionists such as Ricard Dawkins insist on calling evolved entities “designs”, then by that definition of designs, the process of evolution is a designer since it makes designs so to speak.

    I don’t have this semantics obsession some people do. When a scientist once upon a time decided to call the strong association of certain amino acids with certain nucleotide triplets in the process of protein biosynthesis for a “genetic code”, I’m not one of those people who think “codes require coders” or crap like that. But if the person I’m talking to insists on claiming that “codes require coders”, then my response will just be that then the process of evolution is a coder.

    If things that evolve are “designs” then evolution is a designer. If the genetic code requires a coder, then that coder is evolution.

    In short I’m just not that impressed with arguments from semantics. You can’t get to evidence for the existence of God by insisting on using certain labels to describe certain entities.

    Call them whatever the fuck you want. Call them “codes”. Call them “designs”. Call them “creations”. The labels don’t matter, what matters is how they came to exists. And they evolved.

  39. Rumraket: Call them whatever the fuck you want. Call them “codes”. Call them “designs”. Call them “creations”. The labels don’t matter, what matters is how they came to exists. And they evolved.

    Pretty much every designer out there understands that designs evolve. That doesn’t mean they aren’t designs and that they had no designer. Software evolves. Yet software is written by software developers.

    Your faith in evolution is charming, really. Evolution is Godlike. And if there’s something you can’t explain you’re utterly comfortable saying Evolution did it.

    Mock creationists and religious people. Mock yourself. LoL.

  40. Mung: Rumraket: In short I’m just not that impressed with arguments from semantics.

    Yet here you are, making an argument from semantics.

    No, I’m making an argument for why the semantics don’t matter. Obvoiusly you have to respond to an argument from semantics by
    pointing out that it’s just semantics they’re doing.

    You don’t get to where you want to go by trying to label things a certain way. What matters is the substance, not the labels.

  41. Mung: Pretty much every designer out there understands that designs evolve.

    It is completely irrelevant what is generally understood constitutes “design” or “evolution” by designers.

    What matters are the substance of the concepts to which the words refer, not the words themselves. You seem entirely unable to grasp this elementary concept.

    It doesn’t matter that you call them “designs”. That doesn’t get you to where you want to go just because you use that word. I’m sorry if this upsets you.

    That doesn’t mean they aren’t designs and that they had no designer. Software evolves. Yet software is written by software developers.

    Great, and some times that software, like a genetic “program” was “written” by evolution. Which would make the evolutionay process a “software developer”.

    I can do this all day. You can’t label a God into existence.

    Your faith in evolution is charming, really. Evolution is Godlike.

    Bla bla bla. There are no arguments here Mung.

    And if there’s something you can’t explain you’re utterly comfortable saying Evolution did it.

    No, when I don’t know or can’t explain it, then that is my answer.

    I don’t know.
    Or I can’t explain it.

    There is no “evolution did it” going on here for things we can’t explain. Doesn’t it strike you as ironic that you have to sit there and accuse me of the thing you guys do? When we don’t have an explanation, it is you who say God/Designer did it.

    Mock creationists and religious people. Mock yourself. LoL.

    I mock stupidity in all it’s forms. Stop being an easy target.

  42. Rumraket: I mock stupidity in all it’s forms. Stop being an easy target.

    It’s amazing really. You don’t do the things that Mung mocks you for while Mung does them!.

    It seems the level of introspection required to realize this is beyond this ID supporter, which I guess is what makes him an ID supporter in the first place.

  43. Mung,

    Yet here you are, making an argument from semantics.

    That, even if it were true, would still be better then no argument at all which is what you have offered.

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