Thursday, 15 January 2015

Random design - why complexity does not need an intelligent designer

One of the fundamental special creationist misconceptions is that complexity cannot arise without an intelligent designer. Apart from the fact that this is yet another example of an argument from personal incredulity, and not a detailed defence of this special creationist belief, it is one that is made in defiance of the facts. Natural selection acting on random mutation is capable of effecting considerable complexity, as the field of evolutionary computation shows. Furthermore, as the spontaneous self-assembly of virus particles from random interaction shows, things can self-assemble without conscious direction:

Far from being the antithesis of design, random interactions between entities can result in complex behaviour. Ard Louis, a professor of theoretical physics at Oxford University and a Christian active in disabusing laypeople of the belief that evolution and Christianity are mutually exclusive, leads a multidisciplinary group that looks at this fascinating subject:
Research in our group is interdisciplinary, on the border between theoretical physics and chemistry, applied mathematics and biology. We study how complex behaviour emerges from the interactions between many individual objects. Specific topics of interest include biological systems such as virus self-assembly, DNA nano-structure self-assembly or the evolution of gene networks, as well as the properties of complex fluids/soft matter systems such as colloids polymers, or proteins in solution. We primarily use the tools of statistical mechanics -- especially analytic theories and computer simulations -- to better understand the behaviour of these fascinating systems.

Special creationists still invoke Paley and the watchmaker argument, ignoring the fact that it is an illegitimate comparison as watches are not living creatures that are subject to differential reproduction. Having said that, if watches are modelled as living creatures, natural selection and random mutation is capable of evolving structures that can tell time:

Evolution has also been used to evolve complex behaviour in robots:
Darwin suggested that adaptation and complexity could evolve by natural selection acting successively on numerous small, heritable modifications. But is this enough? Here, we describe selected studies of experimental evolution with robots to illustrate how the process of natural selection can lead to the evolution of complex traits such as adaptive behaviours. Just a few hundred generations of selection are sufficient to allow robots to evolve collision-free movement, homing, sophisticated predator versus prey strategies, coadaptation of brains and bodies, cooperation, and even altruism. In all cases this occurred via selection in robots controlled by a simple neural network, which mutated randomly. [1]

Evidently, even instinct is no barrier to evolution. Random events can produce complexity, while natural selection acting on mutation is more than capable of effecting design. Special creationists arguments which allege the contrary are simply not based on fact.

"The dice are thrown into the lap, but their every decision is from the LORD." Prov 16:33 (NET)


1. Floreano D, Keller L  "Evolution of Adaptive Behaviour in Robots by Means of Darwinian Selection" PLoS Biol (2010) 8(1): e1000292. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000292