Created or Evolved?


Yet another post on the jaded topic of creation vs. evolution.  This time, however, I will not question whether humans evolved.  I’d like to consider what we mean when we say that things such as TV sets, computers, cars, pencils, and anything else created by humans have a creator.  And I would like to defend the following thesis:

Technogy does not have a creator. Technology evolved.

This thought occured to me when I watched the Matt Ridley’s TED talk “When Ideas Have Sex” where he draws an analogy between evolution of living beings and evolution of ideas.   What do we mean when we say that a TV set was “created”?  Perhaps, it was built by workers in a Chinese factory.  Have the workers created the TV set?  Perhaps, they have no idea how and why it works.  The workers, definitely, do not understand analog or digital signal processing, video codecs, or physics of radio transmission.  But people who understand those things, have no understanding of PCB assembly or plastics manufacturing.  Neither workers nor the TV designers understand the semiconductor device physics or the chemistry  involved in semiconductor processing.  So, who can be called a creator of a TV? Or, more specifically, a creator of your particular TV set?

This can be said not only about high technologies, but about anything “created” by human beings.  Matt Ridley uses a low-tech pencil as an example:

I am of course quoting from a famous essay by Leonard Read, the economist in the 1950s, called “I, Pencil” in which he wrote about how a pencil came to be made, and how nobody knows even how to make a pencil, because the people who assemble it don’t know how to mine graphite, and they don’t know how to fell trees and that kind of thing. And what we’ve done in human society, through exchange and specialization, is we’ve created the ability to do things that we don’t even understand. It’s not the same with language. With language we have to transfer ideas that we understand with each other. But with technology, we can actually do things that are beyond our capabilities.

This thought occured to me at work.  My task was to test reliability of a new integrated circuit designed by the company I work for.  I myself have a very vague understanding of how these tests are done.  We hire a subcontractor company to run these reliability tests.  But I need to tell the subcontractor how to turn on the chip.  I came to the designer for instructions.  The designer explained to me, which capacitors need to be attached to the device under test.  He also said that to turn on the analog portion of the chip, I need to send a command to the on-chip processor.  What command?  How to send it?  He had no idea.  He used a computer program to do that, and the program was written by software engineers.  What I carried out from this experience is that there is not a single person in the company who can tell me how the product works.  The chip does not have a creator.  But it does work!

It appears to me that when people talk about evolution and creation, they talk about the same damn thing, from a little different perspectives.

Any thoughts?

P.S.  Another thought occured to me.  In creation vs. evolution debates, evolutionists frequently say that evolution is supported by paleontology which proves that organisms historically appeared in a certain order.  They say that if creationism were true, we could, potentially, find fossils of dinosaurs predating any known fossils of mollusks.  But isn’t the same true of technology which is, undoubtedly, considered a human creation?  Technological advances happen in certain order.  E.g. a car cannot be invented before people discover a combustion engine, learn technology to process metals, obtain gasoline from oil, build roads, etc.

Moreover, when conditions are ripe for a certain technology to emerge, similar discoveries are often independently made by several people, often in different parts of the world.  This means that if one scientist does not make the discovery, another will.  And this seems inevitable.  So, the will or the talent of individual scientists are irrelevant.  Which also seem to support the idea that technological progress evolves independently from human will.

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17 thoughts on “Created or Evolved?

  1. Is there a meaningful difference between saying a contrivance was invented and saying it was discovered. If God were out there saying, “I meant to do that.”, he would be the only one to know and the only one to know what that meant.

  2. I am not sure you’re talking about “creation” as much as “invention.” Invention often involves taking things that already exist and combining them in such a way that something new comes out of it. None of the components (or even ideas) were original creations. They were things that already existed and were used in such a manner as to “create” something different. Now did God create everything that we need in order to be inventive? Well, some believe that to be so. Others believe that it all came about naturally. That’s a matter that is too deep for me to create an answer.

      • Well, perhaps the best we can do is combine prior knowledge and/or ideas to come up with or discover something new and different, but is that really creating something or is it just combining that which already exists?

        • Isn’t this an argument against reductionism – that a whole is “more” and “different” than just the sum of the components and that to understand the whole, it is not sufficient to just know and understand the components?

          And often what makes the whole different from the sum of the components is an idea (say, to put wheels together in a certain order to make a watch), i.e. something immaterial.

  3. Excellent post! Back up far enough and take a long enough view, and everything evolves, nothing is created or invented.

    But I think creation and invention happen, at a certain level of abstraction. It’s an emergent phenomena. A watch lying by the sea shore ultimately got there by evolution (cosmic, biological, and technological). But if we narrow our scope to within human affairs, the watch was manufactured somewhere following a design that someone came up with. Of course, their design was influenced by all the designs they’d previously learned, by all their life experiences, by everything that had happened in the world prior to them drawing up the design. The design process is only meaningful at a certain narrow scope.

    This is similar to the free will debate. There is no creation, no invention. It’s all an illusion. But none of that is useful to me when I have to design a software application. And if I do the work of designing the application, I want credit for it. Even if I’m just the final funnel of the ultimate causes of that design.

  4. Fascinating to think about! I’ve got some vaguely Rousseau-ish thoughts bubbling up about every advance creating new problems that will push us toward our next advance, but I’ve never thought about it from the context of the technology itself before – just in terms of our interaction with tech. This is such an interesting post!

  5. How does this apply to omniscience and omnipotence? Evolution seems like “the best we can do”, where we is limited beings or unintentional processes. Should we expect that an omnipotent and omniscient power would also work that way?

    • One can expect anything from an omniscient and omnipotent power, by definition. All “omni” things are ridden with paradoxes because “omni” includes everything. Concepts that include everything are meaningless because meaning is based on definitions, and definitions imply distinction between what thing is and what it is not, i.e. definitions imply exclusion.

      I’m just pointing at the root of a huge tree of paradoxes related to omnipotence and omniscience.

  6. Your idea works brilliantly if you do away with the traditional conception of god as omnipotent and omniscient. I have no problem doing this, because those ideas are not at all essential for a basic unmoved-mover type god. They are essential for the Abrahamics, but there are a lot of logical gymnastics required for the Abrahamics.

    So, if god is not all powerful, not all knowing, then yes, he/she/it/they could very easily cause evolution in the same way we evolve television technology.

    Interesting idea, thanks for sharing,
    Ben

    • Omnipotence and omniscience have many logical issues. But they are the same issues we deal with any “infinite” concept. Infinities can be bigger than themselves. When you have a hotel with infinite number of rooms and all rooms are occupied, you can always free one room by moving half of the occupants to the room next door.

      A growing object (e.g. a flower) becomes bigger than itself every moment. A child learning to walk is doing something he cannot do. So, if you ask me whether God almighty can create a rock too heavy for himself to lift, I’d answer “yes” – and I don’t see a contradiction in such statement. It is possible. It’s a paradox, but a self-consistent one.

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