News

Loading...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Let's Say I Wrote a Program...

designed to spawn off multiple varieties of stock-trading programs, which master program would then evaluate which spawned programs performed best in a market test. My master program would allow, say, the top-performing 50% of round-one programs to create slight variations of themselves, and cull out the bottom-performing 50% of round-one programs. Round two would begin with the top-50% programs and their spawned variants, and would repeat the market test. After that, the master program would repeat the spawning-and-culling process. And so on.

After fifty rounds of this, let's say that I have at hand a suite of programs that perform very well at trading stocks. Would it make any sense to say, "Well, obviously no one intended this, since these programs were selected by a blind evolutionary process?"

The point of this example is not to claim that the fact of evolution (which I accept) proves that a designer does exist, but merely to note that surely the fact of evolution can't be used to prove that a designer doesn't exist!

17 comments:

  1. I think what makes the evolutionary process a little unsettling for (even non-literalist) religious people is that it places the advent of evil well before the rise of man, and seems to involve God in deliberately decreeing the "law of the jungle" on an innocent creation. I don't claim this problem is insoluble—and William Dembski has some interesting ideas on it in The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World—but it does separate it from other natural laws like gravity and electromagnetism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "is that it places the advent of evil well before the rise of man..."

      But so does orthodox Christianity! (Satan and all.)

      See the Silmarillion.

      Delete
    2. Hah, true. But I meant natural evil.

      Delete
  2. Yes, good analogy, although I remember when I was a materialist atheist, I would've thought you were just retreating to non-falsifiability here. I.e. you were merely saying, "I am going to believe in my God until you prove He doesn't exist, which you obviously can't do."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, the thing is, this is often presented as evidence that there IS no designer. The only point I'm making here is that it certainly is not such evidence.

      Delete
    2. I agree that both can coexist. I say this as an agnostic-atheist. In fact, the argument that evolution is proof of no God is one of those "atheist" argumentative positions that make me cringe any time that I see it. It is simple to see that one does not exclude the other regardless of your theological beliefs.

      Delete
    3. For me, the observation is simply that evolution *can* exist without a designer. Of course, it can exist *with* a designer, and if there are people that try to argue that evolution proves that there can't be a designer, yes, they are wrong in that statement; but equally wrong are those that say that the only way for something complex to come about is for someone to explicitly design it.

      It's also worth noting that there are some real semantic issues here: did you really design the 50 programs, or did you design the *process* that produced them? In some contexts, the difference doesn't matter, while in others the difference is crucial.

      What you describe, and I imagine you know this, is a class of algorithms that are used in computer science called "evolutionary algorithms".

      Delete
    4. Sorry, I misspoke: they are more often called "genetic algorithms". My mistake (my CS is a little rusty).

      Delete
    5. "did you really design the 50 programs"

      Look back at my post: I never said I did. What I spoke of was *intending* the outcome.

      Delete
    6. ""did you really design the 50 programs"

      Look back at my post: I never said I did. "

      I know, that's why I never said that you said that you did. I'm just pointing out that there is some semantic subtlety here that some might miss.

      I think that usually when someone is an ID'er, they believe that the "designer" actually designed the end product, not the process that produces the end product, though I'm sure there are a minority of people that mean the latter. Most, though, in the context of biological evolution, actually maintain that "the designer" designed each species individually. For those that think the earth is 6000 years old, that has to be the case, because evolution wouldn't have had a chance to do the designing.

      Delete
  3. That's funny. I did almost exactly this experiment one time with an excel macro.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And presumably you got some advanced primates as the result, right?

      Delete
    2. Ha, ha! No. One funny quasi intelligent thing did happen though -- I had the data stored on a separate spreadsheet, and was using a random rule generator to pick out data to consider for buying and selling. Well, the 'rule mutator' wound up letting the traders 'see into the future.' For a long time I couldn't figure out how they were doing so well! Little cheaters!

      Delete
    3. You put the who in the whatsit? Huh?

      Delete
    4. The program consisted of a spreadsheet with a bunch of 'traders' on it, each of which was basically a set of rules. The rules compared data points from a separate spreadsheet with a bunch of historical data. I would advance the historical data (as if time were passing...), and the rules would generate a score depending on if they were satisfied or not. The score would determine if the trader bought or sold on that day (or did nothing...)

      After so many days (three years, if I remember correctly), the traders who made the most money got to 'live,' (i.e. didn't get erased.) Then there were a whole bunch of interlinked macros to make them 'reproduce' and 'mutate' them (and also one to generate them randomly at the beginning.)

      There were actually a bunch of places where I had to really think about it to keep the program from going crazy, because so much of it was random rules. I kept the rule generator from having access to future data, but the mutator was not designed so well. After so many mutations, some of them were looking at future data on the historical data spreadsheet, so effectively some of the rules were "buy if the price will be higher next week."

      Delete
  4. Gene,

    I think the more common argument is that evolution explains how living species can emerge in all their complexity and splendor, without requiring us to posit an intelligent Designer for the explanation to work. Whereas prior to the theory of evolution, it would have been difficult to explain how such complex beings could exist without resorting to a Creator for the explanation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yes, this... I tried to say the same thing but not as well.

      Delete