Friday, November 19, 2004

Artificial Intelligent Design

Intelligent Designis the latest wrinkle in the Creationist movement. It's a blatant attempt to give scientific/intellectual underpinnings to Creationist theology. The teaching of it has recently been mandated in Dover, Pennsylvania. Attempts are also being made in Georgia, where a sticker has been placed on textbooks that claims "Evolution Is A Theory, Not A Fact". The folks in the ID movement claim that this is quite reasonable science, and it's really ideologically neutral. ARE YOU EFFIN' KIDDING ME?

If we really want to take the IDer's claims to scientific legitimacy to their logical conclusion, we may as well say that "Human Beings Are A Theory Not A Fact". The point is that ID isn't science, it's philosophy. Darwin's theory of natural selection is in fact sound science. It basically says, "given what we know, we can deduce that the system works this particular way." ID basically says "we don't know enough, so it is possible that a system works in any number of ways, one of which is A and another of which is B." It follows that there's no point in distinguishing between A, B or C or so on ad infinitum(literally).

As a software engineer, I have a little expirience in this matter. If I want to analyze a software system and I don't have the source, I have to look at the the outputs given in response to inputs, and perform a series of deductions as to what the software is doing. If I were to take the ID approach, I would say, "well, given that I have no way of knowing aside from the inputs and the outputs, the software could really be doing anything." Now if it's imperative that I know what the system is doing, the ID approach is totally useless. However, the ID approach does serve a purpose. If I accept the ID viewpoint, then any inquiry is pointless, right? I mean, how the hell am I supposed to determine what the system is doing, since it's possible(however unlikely) that it's doing an infinite number of different things, and since I can't distinguish between them, I may as well not even bother.

This leads us to the "ideologically neutral" question. There is no point in proposing a "methodolgy of inquiry" that invalidates inquiry itself unless you want to destroy the legitimacy of science. I think this is their ultimate goal. All scientists must of course accept some notions as primitive, but the goal is to eventually understand or refine our understanding of notions we used to consider primitive. But the ID approach doesn't help, and it isn't meant to. Much like modern conservative calls for "balance" over objectivity, it's meant to cloud and confuse issues. The goal is to reduce debate over competeing ideas into just so much noise from one side or another, and make it impossible to distingish between the quality of one over another. This leaves one with faith as the only option.

We must ask ourselves, "What interest does it serve?" I think the answer is obvious. If you have a political system that is nominally democratic, but the people can't distinguish between good ideas and bad ones, then they're easy to control. If a populace accepts things only on faith, then they have no reason to question their leaders. It's a great little racket they got going, ain't it?