Re: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Sun Oct 18 2009 - 05:30:16 EDT

Heya Murray,

Thanks for the additional comments. If you don't mind, I'm going to add in
some more substantial observations here as well.

First of all, I notice you're pointing out (and rightly so) the contrast
between engineering design and the sort of design we "see" in evolution. I
think Gregory Arago would have a lot of helpful input here as well, since
he's well-situated to express some of the differences between what evolution
'designs' and what humans' design. At the same time, I'd also point out that
there's a relatively recent kind of engineering which I personally think is
very appropriate to this conversation (aside from the no brainer examples of
genetic engineering) - computer design, software design. To give one
particularly apt example: that case we have
the process being designed (since everything is
instantiated in a computer), the goal being designed (the 'environment', the
selection pressures, and the direction is/are chosen by the designer), even
while the specific end product may not be foreseen - but that is a clear
case of an evolutionary process that absolutely has design and foresight
present. On the other hand, we can also have processes that involve a whole
lot of randomness yet ultimately yield a certain result (that famous
'methinks it is a weasel' program comes to mind). For my part, I see
software-based design as particularly apt for the purposes of comparing
human design with 'natural' design - in fact, I can scarcely think of a
"type" of design that this type that would be wholly inappropriate in that
context. And once that's factored in, I think the one major difference
between human design and 'natural' design is this - human design isn't as
technologically advanced as natural design.

Second, I agree with you that Simon Conway Morris (among some others) does a
fantastic job of talking about the constraints, and inferring some
inevitable goals, of evolution. I think the mere certain presence of
convergent evolution is a powerful indicator that we're not dealing with a
wholly unconstrained process. At the same time, I also think there's no one
single way to regard evolution and infer or think about design - and I think
it helps to remember that, in all situations, "stochastic processes" are
ultimately part of a pragmatic model - and models do not necessarily reflect
reality, even if they have predictive utility. For instance, Stephen Barr (a
Catholic physicist) affirms his belief that all of the 'randomness' we see,
both in biology and in physics, is ultimately guided and planned - God
foresaw all these things unfolding well in advance of their doing so. So he
particularly stresses how the idea of anything being "truly random" is
superfluous to the science, and an assertion that cannot be verified by
science besides. And I think his view is a valid one, philosophical as it
is. This is part of what I mean by what I see as the broader ID
encouragement to approach the world as if it were designed - while it's a
single broad category of approach, there's nevertheless a number of ways to
think about and examine the world this way.

Finally, I'd emphasize that it's important to always keep in mind that these
words - accidental, random, etc - come with a certain qualification in
science (which I doubt I have to tell you, but I still think it's important
to mention). When I say that a lottery draw was random, I don't necessarily
mean it was entirely unforeseen of course - back to Stephen Barr's example
of an omnipotent God knowing the outcomes of such things. But I do
reasonably mean that certain people (perhaps 'all humans') could not have
foreseen the lottery draw - and I'm making statements about the mechanisms
and processes involved which relate to that. When we talk about stochastic
processes in evolution, we're talking about models we make - general
patterns of 'how things work' that are, for one reason or another,
particularly fruitful for practical application. So there's some about of
subjectivity in play. One thing I'm always reminded of is that, by classical
theism, God is omnipotent - and an omnipotent God does not have our
constraints, and therefore does not necessarily need to use our models.
(Along the lines of how, in software programming, on the 'top level' you may
have output in 3D graphics, etc. But at the 'bottom level' you may have
nothing but 0s and 1s and rules which are far more abstract compared to the
top level. When one 3D object bumps into another, we can make certain models
and have certain understandings of what's going on in that interaction
without having to understand everything in, for these purposes, those
'ultimate terms' of 0s and 1s. And what was unpredictable to us on the top
level would or could have been entirely predictable to someone at a
different level, with different knowledge.)

To give an example I gave long ago, a claim like SJ Gould's - where it's
said that if we were to go back and replay the tape of evolution on earth,
we'd come out with completely different results - is going beyond, far
beyond, science. Not just because of model criticisms (Meaning convergent
evolution, possibly universal selection pressures (I wonder if, in some way,
abstracts like mathematics function as a kind of selection pressure), and
otherwise) but because such a statement blows past science and into
metaphysics. God, whether He is wholly passive (front-loading), wholly
active (occasionalism) or a mix (some interventions, some front loading),
plays a role - and once we're talking about models that require one to
either exclude or include considerations of God, I think it's fair to say
we're well outside science.

On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 3:22 AM, Murray Hogg <>wrote:

> Hi Schwarzwald,
> Personally, I'm a bit ambivalent about the "designed or evolved"
> distinction myself.
> My reticence with regard to ID - broadly speaking - centres on the tendency
> to seek design at the level of organisms rather than at the level of
> processes.
> The really critical issue - which underlies the reason one should exercise
> caution in the use of the language of engineering design in regards to
> specific organisms - is that there are no analogues within engineering to
> self-replicating biological organisms which carry their design criteria
> within themselves. Or, to put it another way, if one really wants to find an
> engineering analogue to a living organism, then the analogue isn't the just
> the car (for instance) - it's the car, plus the factory in which it was
> made, plus the workers who made it, plus the designers, etc.
> Biological organisms, again, aren't just *designed* and *manufactured*
> artefacts, they are *self*-designing and *self*-manufacturing artefacts
> whose design success is determined not by their correspondence to an
> engineering blueprint, but by adaptation to their environment. To use the
> language of engineering *design* only is to enormously under appreciate
> their complexity (or, alternately, to enormously overestimate the extent to
> which engineering design is analogous to what happens in biological
> systems).
> All that said, it should be obvious that NOTHING I have said on the point
> would exclude the notion that evolution, as a system, is designed. Indeed,
> the more I ponder it, the more I am convinced that neo-Darwinism is
> substantially correct whilst the claim that its outcome is contingent is
> substantially wrong. So whilst I have my doubts about certain elements of ID
> - particularly the notion that we can identify design by looking at specific
> organisms - I don't thereby share Dawkins' conclusion that evolution
> excludes purpose.
> On that specific Dawkins quote I think my only comment would be that we can
> actually draw upon the analogy of the engineering design process to put lie
> to the implication that Dawkins is clearly attempting to draw, viz; that
> because the the outcomes of evolution are contingent they are therefore
> entirely unconstrained and humans are, therefore, a cosmic accident (and
> surely this is ultimate point).
> Here I'd offer the following example;
> Consider the design department at Ford Motor Co and one of their most
> classic products, the Mustang. It should be obvious that the design of the
> Ford Mustang was, in many respects, a matter of historical "accident". That
> is to say, the Ford Mustang might never have been designed if not for a
> series of decisions which might easily have been taken otherwise. But it
> doesn't follow from this that the Ford design department would, instead of
> the Mustang, have designed the USS Enterprise or the Boeing 747. Their
> design process - despite being beset with an obvious degree of
> unpredictability - simply isn't geared to the design of ships or aircraft.
> We have to imagine, rather, that if Ford's design process had not given
> rise to the Mustang, then it would have instead given rise to something very
> like it. That is something very like the Mustang, or very like the Chevy
> Camaro, or very like an amalgam of the two. There are, in short, a million
> ways to meet the Ford design brief, and only one way to design a Ford
> Mustang. Just because something is designed, it doesn't follow that we can't
> locate considerable degrees of contingency.
> It turns out, upon reflection, that the Ford Mustang is BOTH the result of
> design AND of historical accident. The ONLY parts of that car which are,
> strictly speaking, "designed" are those constrained by the design criteria.
> It's not accidental, for example, that the Mustang has four seats, is
> sporty, and marketed for around $2500 for these were precisely the
> constraints set on the design. But many features, the shape of the
> headlights, the number of gears in the transmission, the shape of the body,
> and so on, could have gone a hundred different ways. That Ford's design
> department, at the end of the day, settled on a particular combination of
> these had NOTHING to do with purposeful selection and everything to do with
> "random" selection. Apply the same logic to every aspect of the vehicle NOT
> constrained by the design criteria and you have a rather curious conclusion:
> the Ford Mustang was, in some very real sense, a purely accidental outcome
> of the Ford design process. What Fo
> rd Motor Co INTENDED to design was a four seat replacement for the T-bird.
> That they designed the *Mustang* (and not something else) is pure
> contingency.
> So what you have is something rather counter-intuitive: the fact that the
> Ford *Mustang* is, actually, the result of accident rather than design. That
> the Mustang was a four seat, sports coupe with a target price of $2500 was
> no accident, but that the *Mustang* (and not something else) was the four
> seat sports coupe with a target price of $2500 sent to market by Ford in
> 1965 WAS an accident.
> Getting back to evolution, my point is this: I simply don't agree with
> those who claim that because we can identify elements of contingency in
> neo-Darwinism, even ENORMOUS elements of contingency, the outcomes of the
> process are, therefore, entirely unconstrained. I rather share Conway
> Morris' sense that there is, contrary to contemporary evolutionary
> orthodoxy, something inevitable about the outcomes of evolutionary
> processes. Just as Ford's design department was set to develop a four door
> sports coupe with a target price of $2500 and "accidentally" settled on that
> combination of features which was the Mustang, so I think evolution is set
> to develop intelligent creatures who can transcend the merely biological to
> enter into relationship with God.
> I allow, indeed I even deeply suspect, that there are certain aspects of
> homo sapiens which ARE somewhat "accidental" but to allow that the the
> "design process" is "accidental" in part is quite a different thing from
> saying that it's outcomes are entirely a matter of dumb luck. Certainly,
> allowing for a degree of randomness - even an inordinately large degree -
> doesn't force us to the conclusion that there is absence of intelligent
> input altogether.
> Sorry that was so long, but I hope it clarifies where I'm coming from when
> I'm hesitant regarding identification of design at the level of organisms. I
> am, as I hope you realize, quite comfortable with the idea that there might
> be intelligence behind the process of evolution.
> Blessings,
> Murray.
> Schwarzwald wrote:
>> Heya Murray,
>> One thing I'd suggest, with your perspective in mind, is this: I don't
>> necessarily see a distinction between accepting the presence of (even
>> darwinian) evolutionary principles, and at the same time the presence of
>> real, intentional design. Speaking as someone who has amateur-level
>> experience in programming and procedural content generation, 'randomness'
>> and stochastic process are, like anything else, just one more tool available
>> to a designer. Sure, as you point out we do not 'design' cars in the same
>> way we 'design' a particular breed of cattle - but A) Design is present in
>> both scenarios, and B) It depends on the level or aspect we're talking
>> about.
>> I remember a quote (from Dawkins, perhaps) that biologists "have to keep
>> reminding themselves that these things [what they study in their profession]
>> are not designed". My response would be not only "how do they know they
>> aren't" but "why is it necessary to avoid that conclusion anyway?" Perhaps
>> you're actually saying as much here, in which case you can consider me on
>> board. I think the "designed or evolved" distinction is and always has been
>> a red herring.
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Received on Sun Oct 18 05:31:05 2009

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