Why Genetic Algorithms are NOT Examples of Intelligent Design

I get this one a lot.  “Oh, you can’t use genetic algorithms to support evolution because they are designed.  If you design it, then the results are also designed.”

Unfortunately, this just shows the ignorance of intelligent design proponents.  Process design is not equal to result design.  A simple example will show this.

Everyone should be familiar with the game of craps.  Surely everyone has seen it on TV or in the movies, even you don’t understand exactly how the game is played.  Now, just because we don’t really understand the game doesn’t mean that the casinos (and… shall we say… independent operators) don’t understand the game.

The basic premise is simplicity itself.  The shooter rolls the dice.  Other players make wagers on the outcome of the dice.  Different wagers have different payouts.  These payouts have been studied so that, over time, the house ALWAYS wins.  Vegas casinos have been doing this for decades, with more money available for statistical analysis than we can imagine.  They know exactly how much money they will be making off you.

There is some evidence that craps (or a version thereof) has been played since the crusades.  So this game has a long history and people have studied it a lot.

The game of craps is a well understood process… much like genetic algorithms.  Just about anyone can get involved with a modicum (yes, that’s my new favorite word) of knowledge… much like genetic algorithms.  There is a significant amount of design in the PROCESS (i.e. the wagering) of craps… just like genetic algorithms.

However, the RESULTS, are still completely random… much like genetic algorithms*.

So, even though the odds say that there is only a 1:1,000,000 chance that the shooter will roll whatever (even a couple of times in a row), it will happen.  And who it happens to, is random.  It could even occur twice in one night.  It’s just odds.

Think about this analogy anytime someone tells you that genetic algorithms are designed and therefore the results are designed.  They are very simply wrong.  Just as it is possible to win large sums of money in a game specifically designed to support the house, it is possible for a well designed process to produce a result that could not have been predicted from that design.

I defy anyone to explain, if genetic algorithms are designed, how results always exceed the abilities of human designers.   In everything from aircraft design to factory scheduling and optical lens design, genetic algorithms can perform the same functions as teams of engineers with better results and more quickly.

Finally, there is still one example of a genetica algorithm produced product that, as far as I’m aware of, no human engineer can even explain how it works.  Yet it does.

How can a result that can’t even be explained by humans be designed by humans?

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*Not completely because I’m not bringing fitness into this discussion, but a case could be made for the shooter with the longest history being the more fit in craps.  but I digress.

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