Discovery Institute: Blogging on Empty

BEFORE we discuss a particularly silly article from the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids), we first need to discuss the article they’re attempting to disparage.

It’s an editorial from New Scientist: Intelligence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Excerpt:

Scientists are beginning to see that the toughest problems – how to control complex traffic flows, for example – are better solved through the random evolution or self-organisation of artificial systems than by human reasoning … Engineers are finding that their task is not so much to find solutions as to design systems that can discover their own.

The brief article concludes with this:

As Socrates knew, the really intelligent know the limits of their own ability, an idea we seem to be relearning. You might say supporters of intelligent design have it backwards: the more we observe the complex workings of our universe, the more we must conclude that no single intelligence could have created them.

New Scientist is referring to something we’ve mentioned a time or two before, the increasing use of genetic algorithms to solve engineering problems. There are numerous applications. Here are more specific examples of genetic algorithms being used to solve a variety of problems.

The clear meaning of the New Scientist piece is that the universe is a gigantic, complex system, analogous (in a necessarily inadequate way) to a system of roads, or the piping of a large chemical plant, or the synthesis of a complex molecule, or scheduling classes and exams for a large university, or designing a large integrated circuit — all of which are problems currently being solved by genetic algorithms. Such solutions are better and faster than those possible with the mere application of our intelligence.

Unmentioned, but nevertheless understood, is the fact that genetic algorithms are developed to mimic biological evolution as a problem-solving technique. In fact, outside of the fields of medicine and pharmacology, genetic algorithms may be the most outstanding example of a practical benefit from the theory of evolution.

Fine. We’re up to speed on what New Scientist said. Now here’s the silly response from the Discoveroids: New Scientist Thinks Complexity Argues Against Intelligence.

It’s a very short article. Other than quoting what we did from New Scientist, here’s what they say:

It’s not easy being an evolutionist these days. You have to feel a pang of pity for the critics at New Scientist, who have resorted to a new argument against intelligent design:

The more complex things are, the more we see that there’s no way intelligence could have created them.

That’s right — complexity is now an argument against intelligent design.

That’s about it. The Discoveroid blogger has — dimly — grasped the argument’s conclusion, but not the reasoning. In true creationist fashion, being obsessed with the infinite abilities and certain existence of their mysterious (but — wink, wink — not supernatural) Designer, it just doesn’t register on the Discoveroid brain that there might be problems too big for any single intelligence to solve — and more importantly — that there are readily available means for solving such enormous problems without a Designer of any kind.

It was 150 years ago that Darwin published Origin of Species, explaining that the entire biosphere “designed” itself by means of variation and natural selection — the original genetic algorithm. This is consistent with, and perhaps inspired by, the work of an earlier Enlightenment thinker, Adam Smith, who wrote that a flourishing economy only seems to have been designed, as if led by an invisible hand to promote an unintended end.

Maybe, one day, the Discoveroids will be able to understand such things. Or maybe not.

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