Have Computer Simulations Proven Darwinian Evolution? Part 1

I remember years ago watching a documentary starring Richard Dawkins. In the documentary, Dawkins spent a lot of time demonstrating how computer simulations have shown that the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection are capable of generating complex biological organisms. No intelligence was required, argued Dawkins, only the blind evolutionary process. Being a former design engineer who used computer simulations every day of my career, I was immediately skeptical of Dawkins’ use of simulations to “prove” Darwinian evolution works.

J. Warner Wallace, in his new book God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, presents evidence and arguments that confirm that the simulations used by Darwinian proponents do not, in fact, prove that random mutation and natural selection can build complex biological organisms.

Wallace begins with an introduction to some of the more famous Darwinian simulations:

A number of scientists and researchers have attempted to demonstrate the power evolution has to create irreducibly complex systems (and the appearance of design) by designing sophisticated digital simulations driven by elaborate computer programs. Research of this nature has been ongoing for many years. The Avida project claimed to explore the “evolutionary origin of complex features.” The Ev project attempted to provide an evolutionary explanation for the regions in DNA and RNA (binding sites) where chemical bonds are formed with other molecules. Theoretical biologist Suzanne Sadedin also formulated a geometric model for irreducible complexity and then claimed to have created a simulation to achieve such complexity without the involvement of an intelligent agent. The work of Adrian Thompson is also cited by skeptics who claim Thompson’s digital experiment to evolve frequency-discerning circuits is evidence irreducible complexity can be achieved by evolutionary processes.

Wallace asks, “Do computer simulations demonstrate evolution is capable of producing irreducibly complex biological structures? While skeptics often cite these efforts, they fail to account for irreducible complexity without the involvement of an intelligent agent.”

The first problem is that many of these simulations smuggle in an intelligent designer from the beginning.

Many efforts to create a computer simulation mimicking the evolutionary process are flawed from the onset because they incorporate the involvement of an intelligent designer from their very inception. The Avida programmers “‘stacked the deck’ by studying the evolution of a complex feature that could be built on simpler functions that were also useful.” Sadedin’s geometric model was designed in advance to allow for the easy growth of large geometric shapes. Both Avida and the geometric models do not create true Darwinian processes because they are explicitly and intelligently designed to assist the evolution of an irreducibly complex system.

In other words, these models of Darwinian evolution contain built-in information that helps the simulation produce more impressive results, but this is clearly cheating. Darwinian evolution in the real world doesn’t have this information built into it.

In part 2, we’ll look at the second major problem with these computer simulations: even with intelligent intervention by the programmers of these simulations, they mostly fail to produce irreducibly complex systems.