Our colleague Elizabeth Liddle has described the process of human design as trial and error, tinkering and iteration. Like Dawkins, she has argued nature (like human designers) is able to construct biological designs via trial and error, tinkering and iteration. However, when nature is properly compared and contrasted with the way humans go about creating designs, it is apparent Dawkins’ claim of a blind watchmaker is false.
I refer to Elizabeth’s description because she articulated some aspects of the blind watchmaker hypothesis better than Dawkins, but in so doing actually helped highlight why Dawkins’ blind watchmaker is refuted by the evidence.
[this is a follow up post to Selection falsely called a mechanism when it should be called an outcome]
THE CHALLENGE OF OOL AND SUFFICIENT COMPLEXITY FOR SELECTION TO WORK
Darwinists will often say, “Origin-of-life (OOL) is a different issue than biological evolution”, to which I say “fine, so how again will mindless chemical soups construct a blind watchmaker in the first place?” Margulis suggests the step from dead chemicals to an evolvable cell is more difficult than from a primitive cell to a human.
Hence, as long as OOL remains unsolved, the question of mindless origins remains unsolved, and in the scheme of things, demonstrating mindless OOL is at least as great a problem if not a greater problem than demonstrating mindless biological evolution.
When we see a dead organism, we see how the biological chemicals evolve — they evolve farther from life not closer too it. A dead cell will have better biological materials in it than all the world’s best OOL labs can synthesize from scratch, and yet, a dead cell evolves away from life, not toward it.
Even Darwin himself conceded the first life was a created, not evolved.
the first creature, the progenitor of innumerable extinct and living descendants, was created.
Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator,
Origin of Species
Genetic algorithms are put forward as evidence for Darwinian evolution. But for Genetic Algorithms to create novel designs, consider that at a bare minimum one needs electricity, transformers, transistors, VLSI circuits, chip makers, computer factories, computers, memory banks, operating systems, machine language, assembly language, compilers or interpreters, compilable and semantically sensible programs to implement the Genetic Algorithm, etc. Genetic algorithms are trivial in complexity compared to the collective societal complexity required to make the computer genetic algorithm possible in the first place. For genetic algorithms to work in human affairs, they need intelligence, hence GAs are anything but evidence of blind mindless processes.
Would I say that a mindless printer printing a document is evidence that mindless forces can create literature from scratch, or a video game creating novel adventures for gamers evidence that mindless forces can create intelligently designed stories from scratch? No, because printers and video games need intelligence to create them in the first place. So Darwinists shouldn’t be putting forward GAs as evidence that intelligence is not needed for the emergence of complexity. If we were fair in applying the analogy of man-made GAs, printers, and video games to biology, the fact that these systems need a huge amount of intelligently designed complexity to implement them suggests that even for Darwinian evolution to take place, there needs to be a substantial amount of intelligent design.
NATURE DISPOSES OF LUNCHES VIA MASS EXTINCTION AND SELECTIVE EXTINCTION
Dembski and Marks argue that mindlessly formed fitness functions perform no better than chance on average unless the fitness functions are intelligently designed and the search space has special properties making it amenable to selection. For example, the travelling salesman problem can be solved via genetic algorithms, but long passwords, complex encryption cannot be. But even in the case of the travelling salesman problem, the genetic algorithm cannot be haphazardly slapped together, it needs intelligent design. These limitations on genetic algorithms are described by the No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems.
But even supposing lunch is free, nature disposes of free lunches in the form of mass extinction in the past and selective extinction in the present. See: The price of cherry picking for addicted gamblers and believers in Darwinism.
We know of mass extinction in the past. Raup estimates the following:
Approximately 250,000 fossil species have been cataloged. According to Raup’s figures (based on estimates of average species longevity and standing diversity over the age of the earth), between 5 and 50 billion species may have lived during earth’s long history, of which at most 40 million or so exist today.
Though the 55 billion figure seems ridiculously inflated to me, there is little question of mass extinction in the past. In recent times, and in the near future, the score sheet for Darwinism in terms of appearances (wins) and disappearances (loss) of species is:
The empirical evidence says even if lunches were free, nature would eventually dispose of them anyway (see: Death of the Fittest), hence not only are Darwinists up against the ropes because of NFL theorems, even if Darwinists found a way to weasel some credibility for Darwinism through extreme deviation from expectation of NLF (see here, here, here, here ) these deviations would still be moot, as evidenced by nature disposing of the lunches it has…
Genetic algorithms where complexity is gradually eliminated and all the creatures go extinct would seem to be a more accurate model of biological reality rather than Avida and Weasel, but such reality-based simulations are dismissed by Darwinists unless of course they are arguing in favor of conservation and eugenics and against anthropogenic global warming.
SELECTIVELY DISADVANTAGED DESIGNS
Related to mass extinction and selective extinction, is the problem of selectively disadvantaged designs.
Broken parts in anti-biotic resistant bacteria, blindness in cave fish, sickle cell anemia, etc. are examples of how nature destroys designs rather than creating them. As Behe pointed out in a peer-reviewed paper, the first rule of adaptive evolution is destruction of functioning designs, not creation of them.
Nature is under no obligation to preserve designs, and can be seen to actively destroy them. Like a boat in dire straights, the crew will sometimes jettison the cargo in order to adapt to the environment. So it is with natural selection, designs are often disposed of in exchange for reproductive success. Expediency takes priority over innovation. Free lunches are disposed of even when generously available.
PARTIAL OR FAILED DESIGNS ON THE ROAD TO SUCCESSFUL DESIGNS
Partially formed ideas can persist in the mind or workshop of the designer. Even failed prototypes are informative to the designer as to which design route not to take in the next iteration. Ill-formed designs in the mind of a designer do not immediately terminate the possibility of further improvement of the design. The ability of a design to persist even when it is dysfunctional is crucial to the design process.
But nature is no so kind with dysfunctional designs. In nature, especially if a function is vital, partially formed or failed variants are dispensed with. Variants could be lethal to the organism, thus natural selection rather than fostering innovation, precludes it. As has been said by other scientists:
many genomic features could not have emerged without a near-complete disengagement of the power of natural selection
opening, The Origins of Genome Architecture
a relative lack of natural selection may be the prerequisite for major evolutionary advance
Mae Wan Ho
The internal contradiction in its [natural selections’] major theoretical cornerstone — Fisher’s fundamental theorem
traits having been subjected to heavy selection pressures, because of their importance in the lives of the organisms, should be less variable than less important traits….
traits that have been most important in the lives of organisms up to this moment will be least likely to be able to evolve further!
Critique of Natural Selection
As Stephen Gould wisely said, “what good is half a wing?” Non-functioning wings ought to be a liability that selection would eliminate. The false presumption by Dawkins is that in going from simple primitive forms to final complex forms, the intermediate forms are more functional than the simple forms. But that assumption is false, except possibly for some pathological examples. As an illustration, consider evolving a new kind of heart with different plumbing, the intermediate stages would be lethal….
Important transitionals are not found in the fossil record because in principle they could not exist. Natural selection hinders innovation, it doesn’t foster it. The transitionals are not found in the fossil record maybe because they were never there.
Thus, it is wrong to presume selection implies a road to higher complexity and innovation. It does not. Part of the reason for this false belief is selection is falsely called a mechanism when instead it should be called an outcome. [Note: no Darwinist has even challenged that essay, was it because the points were too unassailable? :-)]
Intelligence has foresight, natural selection doesn’t. A tinkering intelligence will see the value of exploring partially formed or ill-formed designs in his mind or workshop. Blueprints and incomplete ideas can stay alive on the shelf for long periods before being revisited. Da Vinci conceived of a submarine about 400 hundred years before the submarine came to serious fruition. The conception of an airplane may have been at least 1000 years before the Wright brothers, through many failures, created controlled powered flight. The failed intermediate airplanes didn’t stop them from improving, whereas in nature, if the path to improvement must be through non-functioning forms, selection will not construct flying machines. Wilbur Wright, in the midst of despair after one of his failed experiments said:
Not within a thousand years will man ever fly.
But intelligence often has purpose, sometimes relentless purpose, whereas mindless nature does not. So what if beetles lose their wings and pterodactyls go extinct, nature, unlike Wilbur Wright and Werner von Braun, has no reason to reassemble phoenix from ashes of failed experiments and reach for the stars….
THE EFFECT OF MUTATIONS IN THE MIND VERSUS MUTATIONS IN THE WILD
Mutating ideas in the human mind or even in Genetic Algorithms doesn’t necessarily kill the idea. For example, I uncovered a very embarrassing fact in Avida 1.6. I had this population of Avida organisms, and I cranked up the simulated cosmic radiation level to the maximum. I likened the cosmic bombardment simulation to putting a creature in a microwave/x-ray oven for 3 weeks and then demanding the creatures reproduce — and the creatures kept happily reproducing!
In one of the most exhausting debates between a Creationist and Darwinist I’ve ever witnessed on the net, Richard Hoppe and I, politely and civilly argued for weeks. He had me up against the ropes because I was unfamiliar with Avida, but then I got a break when I demonstrated Avida creatures kept replicating even under intense simulated cosmic radiation. In the real world, survival (much less upward evolution) under such intense radiation won’t happen, but in the make-believe GA world of ideas anything is possible! ( you must be logged into ARN, then follow this link: RBH vs. Sal: Natural Selection Goes the Wrong Way).
Hence, ideas don’t die even if they are mutated into functionless zombies. Ideas can be dead and then later brought back to life in the mind. What constitutes survivability for ideas in the mind is arbitrary. But this is not the case in nature. Mutations in the wild can lead to deterioration and death, not innovation toward more integrated complexity.
Hence, even supposing there are free lunches in man-made genetic algorithms, nature doesn’t work like a man-made genetic algorithm. In nature, physics and chemistry determine what ideas and designs can live on to the next generation, whereas in the mind or in genetic algorithms, there is no such requirement.
DIRECTED MUTATIONS VERSUS RANDOM MUTATIONS
Like a locksmith or lock factory creating a key for a lock, the keys are crafted with the lock in mind versus taking random lumps of metal and mutating it with random strikes of a hammer or cuts with a grinding tool and via random trial and error arriving at a working key. Because a real watchmaker has an architecture in mind, he reduces the search time to find or create the matching parts versus using random swings of a sledgehammer on random materials to make a watch. Even with man-made genetic algorithms, the fitness functions are carefully crafted, they are anything but randomly hammered fitness functions.
By way of contrast, mutation and selection in the wild, like a blind watchbreaker, will find a way to diverge from a design solution (such as with mass extinction, blindness in cavefish, antibiotic resistant bacteria, wingless beetles, etc.). When a lunch might possibly be free through a little foresight (such as matching locks to keys, or parts of a watch with the whole of the watch), nature won’t take the free lunch, because it has no reason to craft fitness functions that will take advantage of a free lunch. All of Darwinist railing against NFL theorems are moot if nature takes random fitness functions or anti-design fitness functions over ones that would work.
In accelerated mutation experiments, we see where mutation leads — usually to disaster, not greater complexity. On what grounds should we suppose slower mutation rates will necessarily build integrated complexity? This is like saying we’ll smash watch parts with a hammer only once every 10 years instead of every 10 seconds, the final result is the same, a broken watch. In biology, the slow mutation rates allow populations to sometimes eliminate defects, and recover, but the point is, if fast mutation leads to no new innovation, on what logical grounds should slow mutation lead to new innovation either? Slow mutation only keeps the population from dying, it is misleading to suggest that slow mutation necessarily leads to innovation. Slow mutation and population persistence may allow for more trials, but if selection destroys necessary (but dysfunctional) intermediates, at best, slow mutation rates hide the problem mutation poses for Darwinism, it doesn’t eliminate it.
It is understandable that we might be inclined to think nature works like a watchmaker when we see mutation followed by occasional adaptation. Superficially, selection in the wild appears to parallel the way we think and design, but the apparent parallel disappears upon closer inspection.
Darwinist statistics on the success of natural selection are distorted by confirmation bias. Darwinists focus primarily on nominal adaptations rather than including complete extinctions in the fossil record and ongoing extinction in the present day. Secondly, the adaptations are often of the dysfunctional variety (broken pumps in bacterial antibiotic resistant bacteria, winglessness in beetles) or trivial variety (coloring of peppered moths of thickness of beaks in finches). Further, selection is falsely called a mechanism when it should be called an outcome to the exclusion of other mechanisms that create complexity (such as bacterial or even human genetic engineering).
And if biological complexity in the wild is declining, in addition to the above considerations, it is clear, mindless nature is not a blind watchmaker but rather a blind watchbreaker. It is thus a moot point if free lunch can be discovered via Darwinian processes since nature seems to ignore or dispose of the lunches it already has. Nature has no inherent reason to select life over death (in fact the laws of physics dictate that nature should be more likely to select death and dysfunction rather life and function). This fact is borne out by empirical observation.
Ideas can survive mutations in the mind of the designer because even ill-formed ideas can remain in the mind until they are improved, but ill-formed designs in the wild will not survive to find further improvement. The process of directing mutations by designers (tinkering) is nothing like the process of random mutation in the wild which are empirically demonstrated to destroy function.
If Elizabeth Liddle, Richard Dawkins or others argue natural selection works like blind watchmaker, consider this essay. Nature is not a blind watchmaker it is a blind watchbreaker. If you can grab a free lunch, grab it, because the blind watchbreaker won’t.