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A cynical attempt by a Darwinian philosopher to co-opt Alan Turing’s legacy?

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A friend at the Italian ID blog, who spent 40 years in informatics, thinks that materialist atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett (who thinks that Darwin had the best idea ever) is robbing Turing in this piece where he tries to imply some equivalence. Friend replies here at UD:

Imposture gets parasitic power from truth. In this article, Daniel Dennett shows himself a master of this tactic.

Dennett takes the opportunity of the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing to try to associate the “father” of informatics with Darwin. He writes: “Charles Darwin and Alan Turing, in their different ways, both homed in on the same idea: the existence of competence without comprehension.” Dennett’s aim is clear: to attach the scientific authority of Turing to Darwin.

According to him, Turing showed that “In order to be a computer, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is.” This shows what Dennett really wants to argue: “a purposeless, mindless process can crank away through the eons, generating complex organisms without having the slightest whiff of understanding of what it is doing.” In short computer science can prove Darwinism.

Dennett’s claim is not only a non-sequitur, but an inversion of reality.

Informatics is a field where every bit of functional complex information is designed by intelligent agents. As such, it does not prove Darwinism’s claim that “mindless processes generate complex organisms”.

Turing’s machines passively execute instructions. They don’t project complex systems on their own. So they cannot be taken as examples of mindless processes that do it.

Given the failure of Dennett’s fundamental tenet, it hardly seems necessary to comment at length on the rant that follows about “evolution and its cousin in Turing’s world, artificial intelligence”, which, according to him, proves that “[evolution’s] mindless mechanicity can generate human-level — or divine level! [sic] — competence”.

Being an admirer of Turing (and a guy who spent 40 years in informatics), all I can say about Dennett’s specious attempt to associate him with Darwin: Don’t mix science with fables please.

Yes. Dennett actually said:

The very idea that mindless mechanicity can generate human-level — or divine level! — competence strikes many as philistine, repugnant, an insult to our minds, and the mind of God.

– “’A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’: What Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence,” The Atlantic , (June 22, 2012)”

We checked. Dennett did say that mindless mechanicity can generate divine level! competence.

He should retire and golf with Dawkins.

See also: If you ever wondered whether Richard Dawkins is past it, yes he is. This is another instance of Dawkins lighting into Wilson. But how come these people are self-destructing all at once? Who’s next? Thoughts?

4 Replies to “A cynical attempt by a Darwinian philosopher to co-opt Alan Turing’s legacy?

  1. 1

    The Numbness of the Mind

    I wonder if the individuals that believe in evolution aren’t conditioned to enter a kind of trance, a “numbness of the mind” state in which they accept as true any “just so stories”. And once in this state of mind numbness, the range of fantasies that their numbed brain can accept has no end. So much that any trivial absurdity may appear to them as reasonable.

    Case in point: the statement quoted from Dennet’s article:

    “Charles Darwin and Alan Turing, in their different ways, both homed in on the same idea: the existence of competence without comprehension.”

    “Numbness of the mind”: state of the mind systematically induced into the sympathetic readers of evolution “scientific” (or less) texts. In this state the the numbed mind behaves similarly with a numbed arm, leg or muscle: an external stimulus is not able to produce the expected reaction of the arm, leg or muscle against a possibly dangerous aggression. The owner may fall victim to the attacker in the same way as the numbed mind cannot defend against the dangerous lies presented as truth.

  2. 2
    Axel says:

    Billy Bean built a machine to se what it could do,
    He built it up of sticks and stones

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    Billy Bean built a machine to see what it would do,
    He built it up of sticks and stones
    and nuts and bolts and glue…

    I’m reminded that I’ve already sung that here, but I do hear a resounding “Encore!” from Billy’s fan club of materialist groundlings.

  4. 4
    johnnyb says:

    Denyse – it is worse than either you have described! If only it were a mistake as to the meaning of informatics, Dennet might possibly be let off the hook. But no! Dennet (not unusually) has both his history and his philosophy completely backward!

    The whole point of Turing’s computer was to show that human reasoning was beyond that of computation. Godel had actually already proved this, but Godel’s work dealt with contrived problems that made him ignorable. Turing put the question at the center of mathematics.

    Godel and Turing came along as part of “Hilbert’s Program”. The goal was to mechanize proofs and especially proof-checking. In other words, the goal was to remove the human element from mathematics. So, what Hilbert wanted, was a mathematics that was well-described-enough that it could be implemented mechanically – without any thought whatsoever, and to use that as the basis of proofs. Well, what Godel, and later Turing, showed, was that this is impossible. Turing developed a machine that *can* compute *any* *computable* number, and then showed that there were a number of things which the machine cannot compute! In fact, there are infinitely many things which it cannot compute. However, if mathematics is to move forward, we have to be able to prove things which are unprovable by the computer.

    So, in other words, in the same day, on the same paper, Alan Turing showed that all finitary computational systems are equivalent, and that for mathematics to progress it must mean that the practitioners *must* not be within that same domain!

    So, quite forcefully, not only did Alan Turing *not* show how the mind is a myth or that materialism is the winner, he actually *proved* the opposite.

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