Posted tagged ‘intelligence’

Appreciating what intelligence can do that evolution can’t

December 11, 2008

One problem for pro-science forces today is that we’re bored with progress and the “miracles” of technology.  Or at least, mentioning the many ways in which intelligent design far outstrips what “nature” has produced has been done to death, and we have instead turned our minds to contemplating what evolution has done and which design still cannot match.

This is not all bad, of course, since the celebrations of industry, technology, as well as the scientific hubris, of progressives and futurists  tended to ignore the mysteries and exquisite dexterity and control of biological organisms, like the hummingbird.  Computers blow us away at any number of tasks, yet simply driving along the road safely is at best at the limits of today’s computer technology.  And it is nearly certain that no computer enjoys the consciousness that a human knows.

So this post is in no way meant to suggest that we can equal or better evolution in general, let alone can we create the kind of intelligence and creativity that produces our wonderful machines.   As I noted previously, it appears that intelligence evolved to handle what evolution could not directly address, matters of space, time, and rationality. Even then, evolution does not so much give us a rational brain, as to supply the material and organization that allows development, sensory experience, and learning to shape our minds to do what evolution (or God, if you’re an IDist) cannot do directly.

So, while we must appreciate the manner in which evolution deals with tremendous complexity of the sort that our intelligence combined with computation still cannot properly organize, it would do us some good to contemplate once more how much our intelligence has outstripped “nature” in handling materials, in controlling fire, and in producing extremely fast machines and computers that have given us capabilities that “God” either could not or would not give to us.

Even something as simple as fire seemed to be a god-like “element” to the Greeks, as the Prometheus myth tells us.  The cheetah is fast, but topping out at around 60 mph, it runs at less than 1/10th the land speed record.  No bird powers itself to over 100 mph, while experimental hypersonic craft have reached 7500 mph.  New Horizons managed to hit 42,000 mph on its mission to Pluto.  And the internets connect the whole world in what is to humans a virtual instant.

That is what happens when minds make connections between concepts, empirical knowledge, and the recognition of what is needed and/or “cool.”  The simple reason why these phenomena never appeared prior to the evolution of human intelligence, plus a (humanly, not evolutionarily) long learning period, is that there is no intelligence behind biology.  One does not disparage the hummingbird, the ape, or the human by noting that the abilities supplied to these organisms in many areas pale in comparison with the abilities possible through scientific and technological progress.  Indeed, the fact that we now can harness genetic algorithms to partially mimic the capabilities of evolution only enhances what intelligence alone can do, and it does so by recognizing both the possibilities and limitations of the process(es) that gave rise to life, including ourselves.

Surely our understanding of evolution itself speaks well of our intelligence and of our ability to make creative leaps, something that is absent from the various records of evolution.  We have proven ourselves able to extrapolate evolutionary principles into a set of predictions that fit taxonomy, the fossil record, and genetic information (which speak to evolution beyond mere taxonomy), and to recognize how life does not fit with design principles and characteristics.  The proper use of intelligence seems to be what IDists desire to diminish, at least far enough so that we can no longer do proper life science.

Evolutionary theory is the product of intelligence.  ID is the product of anthropomorphization, anthropocentrism, and of superstition.  We have intelligence, no question, but evolution also bequeathed to us the propensities to avoid the use of our evolved intelligence.  Sadly, this is also what we would tend to expect of evolution (precise scientific predictions to this end do not seem likely, however) and not, say, of Alvin Plantinga’s god. 

The evolution of intelligence provided us a kind of “transcendent” capability, which may be seen in our technology, but by no means could it ensure that evolved organisms would make proper use of this capability.  That is the dilemma of evolution, for we only evolved to deal adequately, and often quite falsely, with the world, and not to delve carefully and honestly into what really happened to give us our world.  We have to watch to see if the best that evolution gave to us will win out over the worst that it produced, to see if the lure of intelligence will largely supplant the laziness and lack of thought found in ID and in the other pseudoscience.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.