Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Yet another nail in the coffin of ID

Seen any of the Terminator movies lately? If so, you may want to wait a while before reading this, but this is cool. Trust me. Even if you spell it 'evilution', you are going to think this is cool. Really cool. Alan Bellows did a writeup on hardware evolution, a brand new area of study, which has direct parallels to biological evolution. The main figure in this article is a Dr. Adrian Thompson at the University of Sussex. The experiment that has so wowed me involved the use of a field-programmed gate array (FPGA) to distinguish between two tones. The FPGA used was small, only 10 x 10 cells in size, and removed access to the system clock (I presume that this ensured that the program could not time the waveforms coming in and accidentally result in a program that just measured the waveform frequencies). Dr. Thompson programmed in a random set of binary data, the initial DNA if you will, and judged the ability of each set of digital DNA. The programs which produced the best ability to differentiate between tones were kept for the next generation, with a bit of random mutation thrown in for good measure.

"For the first hundred generations or so, there were few indications that the circuit-spawn were any improvement over their random-blob ancestors. But soon the chip began to show some encouraging twitches. By generation #220 the FPGA was essentially mimicking the input it received, a reaction which was a far cry from the desired result but evidence of progress nonetheless. The chip's performance improved in minuscule increments as the non-stop electronic orgy produced a parade of increasingly competent offspring. Around generation #650, the chip had developed some sensitivity to the 1kHz waveform, and by generation #1,400 its success rate in identifying either tone had increased to more than 50%.

Finally, after just over 4,000 generations, [the] test system settled upon the best program. When Dr. Thompson played the 1kHz tone, the microchip unfailingly reacted by decreasing its power output to zero volts. When he played the 10kHz tone, the output jumped up to five volts. He pushed the chip even farther by requiring it to react to vocal "stop" and "go" commands, a task it met with a few hundred more generations of evolution. As predicted, the principle of natural selection could successfully produce specialized circuits using a fraction of the resources a human would have required. And no one had the foggiest notion how it worked." And that is what is so cool about this. Until the program was back-engineered, how it did what it did was a complete unknown and totally up to the selection process.

And that was where the surprises were found. A mere 37 of its logic gates were used, compared to hundreds of thousands in a sound processor designed specifically for the task. Even though only a very few gates were used, they were organized in a complex and completely unexpected way. "The plucky chip was utilizing only thirty-seven of its one hundred logic gates, and most of them were arranged in a curious collection of feedback loops. Five individual logic cells were functionally disconnected from the rest– with no pathways that would allow them to influence the output– yet when the researcher disabled any one of them the chip lost its ability to discriminate the tones. Furthermore, the final program did not work reliably when it was loaded onto other FPGAs of the same type." The purpose of the seemingly unconnected logic cells seems to be in supplying magnetic flux, and the program makes use of this in lieu of not having access to the system clock.

"These evolutionary computer systems may almost appear to demonstrate a kind of sentience as they dispense graceful solutions to complex problems. But this apparent intelligence is an illusion caused by the fact that the overwhelming majority of design variations tested by the system– most of them appallingly unfit for the task– are never revealed." This concept is key in understanding why proponents of intelligent design (IDiots) see conscious design everywhere. Natural selection eliminated the 'designs' that didn't work, so we only see the ones that do! So everything around us are the resulting successful designs. It's no wonder why engineers see god everywhere. But it's all an illusion, complexity arising from a simple set of rules. What works moves on, what doesn't is discarded. Random mutations occur ensuring that falsely optimized configurations don't occur. Evolution is such an elegant process!

From Pharyngula, PZ Meyers writes: "That looks a lot like what we see in developmental networks in living organisms — unpredictable results when pieces are "disconnected", or mutated, lots and lots of odd feedback loops everywhere, and sensitivity to specific conditions (although we also see selection for fidelity from generation to generation, more so than occurred in this exercise, I think). This is exactly what evolution does, producing a functional complexity from random input."

I think there are limits on the analogy to biological evolution, but the parallels are immediately obvious. There will always be those out there that say that Dr. Thompson was the designer because he set up the initial conditions. But simulating the initial conditions and creating them (as many IDiots are wont to say of the ) are two very different things, so reading that kind of IDiocy into this is reaching. One thing this experiment makes abundantly clear is that by following the rules set out by natural selection apparent complexity can become manifest in a relatively short amount of time.

Science is so cool.

8 comments:

Matt said...

That's the coolest thing I've read in a long time. I've heard about computer programs simulating evolution, but this is just amazing...

J. K. Jones said...

In order to make that program work, an intelligent person had to take raw materials, assemble them into a computer, develop a programming language that enabled the computer to manipulate data, and write the algorithm it used to generate and keep the numbers for the sequence. This program was written and designed. That involves creativity and intention. Far from proving that there is no God, these programs and arguments demonstrate that He is necessary.

Shamelessly Atheist said...

I never tried to prove that there is no God. That's pointless, since no one has ever proven God's existence, a prerequisite for doing so. But what this does successfully refute is one of the central ideas behind ID - that Natural Selection can not produce complex systems without being specifically designed.

The setting up the initial conditions is not a part of Evolution. That is a separate issue. What this shows (and what you clearly missed) is that complexity can arise from random mutation and the application of simple rules of selection. The program itself did not arise from any creativity or design. After the initial conditions were set and the ball was started rolling (how the ball started rolling is a separate issue, as I've said), there was absolutely no input by the experimenter. That is in direct contrast to what ID says - that this is supposedly impossible. This was the whole point.

Saying that someone had to design the computer, etc., is the same as what Kent Hovind said about the Miller-Urey experiment, that someone had to create the conditions. Ridiculous. Simulating the starting conditions is not at all the same as creating them.

Natural Selection is a set of natural rules which allow the formation of complexity and give the illusion of design. Input from some fictitious god is not required.

J. K. Jones said...

"...that Natural Selection can not produce complex systems without being specifically designed..."

The simulation proceeded based on an algorithm that lead to the desired outcome. It simulated having an overriding, pre-designed set of steps to go through to reach it’s conclusion.

"The setting up the initial conditions is not a part of Evolution."

The initial conditions for evolution must be explained in some fashion. Unless you just don't want to explore the issues.

The initial conditions require a creator. Something does not come into being from nothing.

The ongoing operation requires design in a narrow sense: the presence of systems that lead toward a purpose. This program requires a purpose to function. If evolution is granted, for the sake of argument, it requires an intelligence and an intention to set up the system. Intelligence and intention are normally ascribed to a person, or creator.

Shamelessly Atheist said...

"It simulated having an overriding, pre-designed set of steps to go through to reach it’s conclusion." No. There were no such predesigned steps. The programs which were kept were those that best performed an assigned task. This is analogous to a light sensitive cell becoming an eye. The FPGA gate settings were simply scored on how well it differentiated between two tones (the FPGA did not know their frequencies or have any other information) starting from complete randomness. The score mimics survival probability. A low score would be the equivalent of removal from the gene pool.

"The initial conditions for evolution must be explained in some fashion." I'd like to see the origin of life problem solved, but it's irrelevant when discussing Evo. I keep telling you, abiogenesis is a separate issue, one that unfortunately may never be solved. But so what? You can not jump to 'goddidit' every time something hasn't been explained yet. That's just spurious logic, premature curiosity satisfaction. You seem to keep wanting to posit a god without any evidence and I just won't play that game because it's silly.

What you see as 'purpose' is simply a gain in advantage by performing a function. The genetic code approaches an optimum as generations go by. Organisms with bad genes tend to be removed while the genes in organisms that do the task better get passed on to the next generation. That is what Thompson is simulating. This is how the eye evolved. It started with a light sensitive cell and the better the cell got at being sensitive to light, the better the chances of survival. Simple. No purpose, just better survival characteristics. You keep harping on this 'purpose' thing. I really, REALLY suggest doing some reading on Evo, and not books on the DI's list. Those guys are dishonest brokers.

"It simulated having an overriding, pre-designed set of steps to go through to reach it’s conclusion." NO! Unless you call being born, passing on some of your genetic material (plus a few random changes here and there) if you are successful at reaching adulthood and dying predesigned steps, but that's absurd.

If Thompson had had purpose in mind, he would have wrote the program with the function already in the code rather than starting from randomness, applying a few simple rules (which is what Natural Selection is) and random changes (mutations) thrown in. Since there was no direction by the experimentor, purpose can not be inferred.

You have between 100 and 500 genes that you do not share with either of your parents, a result of uncorrected gene copying errors. In other words, mutations. The good news is that almost all of these copying errors are benign. It's how primates came to need to eat fruit for their vitamin C. That gene for ascorbate synthesis is broken. This happened when our common ancestors were still primarily fruit eaters, so it had a benign effect that didn't become manifest till we moved onto the savannah. Are you trying to tell me that we were designed like this? Does God hate British sailors that much? Does ID explain why 99% of all species ever to have inhabited the Earth are extinct? Evo does. ID doesn't. In fact, ID explains nothing. It's not even Science.

J. K. Jones said...

“The programs which were kept were those that best performed an assigned task.”

How did the computer determine which program to keep? Was there an algorithm that it used?

“The FPGA gate settings were simply scored on how well it differentiated between two tones (the FPGA did not know their frequencies or have any other information) starting from complete randomness.”

How did the computer score the settings? Was there an algorithm that the computer used to process the data?

“You can not jump to 'goddidit' every time something hasn't been explained yet.”

There is no jump here. There is something in the world that requires an explanation. That explanation is that there is a being with intelligence and intention behind the process of evolution.

“You seem to keep wanting to posit a god without any evidence and I just won't play that game because it's silly.”

I’ve offered plenty of evidence. You just choose to ignore it.

“…a gain in advantage by performing a function…”

The very word function implies a purpose or intent.

“…approaches an optimum…”

An optimum for what? Is the optimum the goal? Again, you are implying a purpose in the very words you are using to describe the situation.

“…better survival characteristics…”

That’s the whole point. The purpose of the system as you describe it is to make life better able to survive.

“…applying a few simple rules…”

Rules require a rule-maker. Thompson was the rule maker in this scenario.

“…Since there was no direction by the experimentor..”
If he applied rules, how can you say that he did not give direction? If he used a computer program for the simulation, how can you say there was no intelligent coding of the program the computer ran?

“Does ID explain why 99% of all species ever to have inhabited the Earth are extinct? Evo does.”

Evolutionary theory does not even explain itself without postulating a system which requires an intelligence to direct it and a creator to get the whole thing going.

Christianity does have an explanation for the extinction of species and the ‘defects” in nature: sin. Man’s fall influenced the creation (read Romans). It is perfectly reasonable to think Satan’s fall before that influenced the creation negatively as well.

I have better explanations for the world we find ourselves in that you do. There is no “gap” in my knowledge in which assumptions have to be made.

Shamelessly Atheist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shamelessly Atheist said...

*Sigh* You are clearly incapable of distinguishing between function and purpose. Function does not require design at all, purpose does. I won't try to explain it since you are the one that is presupposing design where there is none, presupposing a god without providing evidence, etc.

"I’ve offered plenty of evidence. You just choose to ignore it." No, you tried to argue that for logic to exist god must exist without ever suggesting why that should be so. TAG is a fatally flawed argument. You just won't accept that.

"Evolutionary theory does not even explain itself without postulating a system which requires an intelligence to direct it and a creator to get the whole thing going." No.

"The very word function implies a purpose or intent." No, it does not. I won't waste any more time reasoning, especially since you have been told the difference.

"Christianity does have an explanation for the extinction of species and the ‘defects” in nature: sin." No one has ever demonstrated that sin, souls, etc. exist. Besides, I thought only humans could sin in your world. How does that explain extinction? Don't bother answering. I think your nurse is calling for you to take your meds now.

"I have better explanations for the world we find ourselves in that you do. There is no “gap” in my knowledge in which assumptions have to be made." You're right. You can't have a gap in nothing.

"That’s the whole point. The purpose of the system as you describe it is to make life better able to survive." I've told you, there is 'purpose' required. The organism is either better suited to survive or it is not. How is that purpose? See my last paragraph.

"There is something in the world that requires an explanation. That explanation is that there is a being with intelligence and intention behind the process of evolution." So you jumped at the first thing that came your way no matter what. See my last paragraph.

"Evolutionary theory does not even explain itself without postulating a system which requires an intelligence to direct it and a creator to get the whole thing going." Fallacious reasoning. Not just my say so, but any philosopher would disagree with you. See my last paragraph.

"Rules require a rule-maker." Fallacious reasoning again. See the last paragraph.

Last paragraph: So, now I am left with labeling you an idiot. Note that this is not name calling, but labeling on the basis of available evidence. You are the weakest link. Goodbye!