God and Software Development

by dj on December 14, 2004

A small news story caught my eye: Famous atheist now believes in God http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=315976. If this link stops working, please send me an e-mail and I'll post the content of the article within my blog.

Anthony Flew, at age 81, nows says that "A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature", and that biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved."

Of course, the discussion between evolutionists and creationists about the origin of the universe has been going on for decades, if not centuries. At the very root of the debate, the question arises: Can a complex system evolve from something that is simple, and what are the limits (if any) on the complexity of the system.

On the surface, the answer is of course, complexity can arise out of simple structures. As well pointing to chaos theory, the evolutionists have the game of life http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway as a wonderful example of evolution theory: Beautiful patterns that seem to be complex and non-chaotic can arise out of very simple structures and very simple rule-sets, over many iterations. And thus (begin hand-wavy) evolution of everything is explained, from the origin of the universe to double-helix of DNA ( end hand-wavy). Of course, I over-simplifying the evolutionist's argument, but I hope I have captured the gist of it.

Now this type of argument can drive software developers along a train of thought that can drive them completely nuts. Because now, in theory, you should be able to write programs with simple data points and simple rules that can evolve to very smart behaviors as long as you have an iteration loop that doesn't break down. Or put it another way: You have a program that not only manipulates data, but can manipulate itself. The primordial stew at the beginning of time where life was created, created a "program" (DNA) where not only data but the program itself evolves.

A lot of software developers have problems with this. And a lot of software developers believe in God. You be the judge if there is a correlation. Donald Knuth, the creator of TeX, is a Christian who beside writing some hefty tomes on computer development, has published a series of essays titled "Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About" http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/things.html which I found completely fascinating.

Of course, I should point out that Flew, unlike Knuth, doesn't believe in a Christian God, just some sort of super-intelligence that exists outside of man. Not yet anyways.

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