Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Some thoughts on evolutionary algorithms and design

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Categories : Evolution, Philosophy, Computer Science, Engineering

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published: mercredi 10 janvier 2007 0:47:09

In this post I would like to explore some of the implications of evolutionary algorithms (EA's) and what they can (and can't) tell us about design. While I think what I say is relevant to all EA's, I am going to focus specifically on the Avida software program. I'm doing this for a number of reasons - the software and documentation are available online, Avida is often used in debates about design and evolution, and Robert Pennock made some claims about Avida during the Dover trial that I want to explore.

Before I get to EA's, though, I want to clear up one misunderstanding that many people have about design. The term "design" can refer to multiple ideas and this ambiguity is often the cause of a lot of confusion. Michael Behe, I think, is guilty of confusing two different uses of the term design. On p. 193 of his book Darwin's Black Box, Behe defines design as "the purposeful arrangement of parts." I think this definition gets at what many people think of when they think of design. If an engineer designs a circuit, he puts a resistor here and a capacitor there and a transistor there. But a little earlier on the page, Behe, I think, conflates this sense of design with another sense of the word. Behe claims,

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