Re: design: purposeful or random?

Bob Carling (
Sun, 6 Oct 1996 21:42:28 +0100 (BST)

As you may already know, your posting, as below, is highly timely for folks
in the UK who attended our annual day conference yesterday (or who got the
papers but did not attend) - which was on the subject of Design in Nature! I
have therefore posted yours onto the CIS discussion list (

Bob Carling

At 14:44 06/10/96, Glenn Morton wrote:
>Which is a better design technique, rational design or random evolution?
>Creationists often cite the supposed inability of random mutation to create
>new information and its inability to perform better than a human designer.
> A.E. Wilder-Smith wrote:
> "Thus Neodarwinian thought requires basically the prebiotic
>autoorganization of raw matter (which the second law categorically
>excludes), the creation of information by random deviations (which
>information theory categorically forbids), the encoding of
>information by chance (without the help of exogenous code
>conventions), the storage of information by chance and its
>retrieval also by chance. The Darwinian hypothesis sets out to
>explain the origin and the replication of a biological organism (a
>super machine), immensely more complex than a modern automobile, by
>means of random deviations. If we were to accept such an
>hypothesis, we would have to be willing to in principle to accept
>the origin and the development of any other teleonomic machines
>solely exclusively by means of the molecular deviations of iron
>molecules and by selection on the car market in the game of supply
>and demand, but without the aid of any teleonomic construction
>mechanisms, blueprints, or concepts.
> "According to this scheme, competition plus chance would
>suffice to explain the development and origin of all cars. Thus
>engineers, machines, and workshops would no longer be required to
>produce cars."~A. E. Wilder-Smith, The Natural Sciences Know
>Nothing of Evolution, (San Diego: Master Books, 1981), p. 65
>Maybe engineers are on their way out. Below is an excerpt from this month's
>Scientific American:
> "Brian Howley of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space
>guided the evolution of a program that can figure out
>how to maneuver a spacecraft from one orientation to
>another within 2 percent of the theoretical minimum
>time--10 percent faster than a solution hand-crafted by
>an expert. And researchers at University College in
>Cork, Ireland, grew a system that can convert regular
>programs, which execute instructions one at a time, into
>parallel programs that carry out some instructions
> "To create their software, Fernandez and Howley did
>not have to divine insights into neurophysiology or
>rocket science. The task of the genetic programmer is
>simpler. First, build an environment that rewards
>programs that are faster, more accurate or better by
>some other measure. Second, create a population of
>seed programs by randomly combining elements from a
>"gene pool" of appropriate functions and program
>statements. Then sit back and let evolution take its
>course. Artificial selection works just like the natural
>variety: each program is fed data and then run until it
>halts or produces a result. The worst performers in each
>generation are deleted, whereas the best reproduce and
>breed--that is, swap chunks of code with other
>attractive programs. Occasionally, a random mutation
>changes a variable here or adds a command there.
> "The technique can generate solutions even when the
>programmers know little about the problem. But there is
>a price: the evolved code can be as messy and
>inscrutable as a squashed bug. Fernandez's
>gesture-predicting program consists of a single line so
>long that it fills an entire page and contains hundreds of
>nested parenthetical expressions. It reveals nothing
>about why the thumb moves a certain way--only that it
> "Just as in the real world, evolution is not necessarily the
>fastest process either. Howley's speedy workstation
>churned for 83 hours to produce a satellite-control
>program that beat human ingenuity in eight test cases.
>And when it was presented with situations it had never
>encountered, the program failed, a common problem
>with evolved software. (Of course, the human expert's
>program failed on the new cases as well.)"~W. Wayt Gibbs, "Programming with
>Primordial Ooze", Scientific American cot 1996, pp 48-50
>Notice that the evolved programs were better than the intentionally designed
>programs. The interesting thing to me is that in a real sense both types of
>programs are designed. The traditional algorithm is well thought out by an
>intelligent agent with each part intricately designed. The other is designed
>by designing an environment in which solutions to various problems can be
>found via random mutation. Design can take several forms. It does not have
>to be the traditional form of design.
>For those who have been on the reflector for a couple of years, you will
>remember those programs I offered to demonstrate this process. My program
>would mutate itself at certain locations and a huge, almost infinite variety
>of screen shapes (which I likened to species) could be generated by that
>process. I designed the system, the environment which produces these
>pictures. Because I chose which mathematical system to place into the
>computer, I therefore, also designed each and every picture.
>Wayt concludes his article with a more interesting example. Evolving
>"Ultimately, evolved software may lead to evolved
>hardware, thanks to the recent invention of circuit
>boards that can reconstruct their circuit designs under
>software control. Adrian Thompson of the University of
>Sussex turned a genetic programming system loose on
>one such board to see whether it could produce a
>circuit to decode a binary signal sent over an analog
>telephone line. Using just 100 switches on the board,
>the system came up with a near-perfect solution after
>3,500 generations. Although the task is simple, "it
>would be difficult for a designer to solve this problem in
>such a small area and with no external components,"
>Thompson says.
> "Hardware evolution demands a radical rethink of what
>electronic circuits can be," he argues, because evolution
>exploits the idiosyncratic behavior that electrical
>engineers try to avoid. Although genetic programs are
>largely still fermenting in their primordial ooze, it seems
>just a matter of time until they crawl out to find their
>niche."~W. Wayt Gibbs, "Programming with
>Primordial Ooze", Scientific American cot 1996, p 50
>Christians should be aware that design via evolution is a coming field.
>Foundation,Fall and Flood
Dr R.C.J. Carling, Senior Editor, Life Sciences
Chapman & Hall Tel: +44(0)171-865-0066
2-6 Boundary Row Fax: +44(0)171-522-9624
London SE1 8HN, UK (work) (home)