June 16, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

NASA-Ames Gives Darwin Credit for Antenna Design Project

A press release from NASA-Ames Research Center claims, “NASA ‘Evolutionary’ Software Automatically Designs Antenna.”  Using artificial intelligence software, their approach converged on the best design.  The article explains:

“The AI software examined millions of potential antenna designs before settling on a final one,” said project lead Jason Lohn, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, located in California’s Silicon Valley.  “Through a process patterned after Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest,’ the strongest designs survive and the less capable do not.”
    The software started with random antenna designs and through the evolutionary process, refined them.  The computer system took about 10 hours to complete the initial antenna design process.  “We told the computer program what performance the antenna should have, and the computer simulated evolution, keeping the best antenna designs that approached what we asked for.  Eventually, it zeroed in on something that met the desired specifications for the mission,” Lohn said.

Evolutionary software appears to be more powerful than a speeding engineer:

“The software also may invent designs that no human designer would ever think of,” Lohn asserted.  In addition, the software also can plan devices that are smaller, lighter, consume less power, are stronger and more robust among many other things – characteristics that spaceflight requires, according to Lohn.

The Evolutionary Software project is funded by NASA’s Office of Exploration Systems and its Evolvable Systems Group.

Here is a teachable moment.  This story is full of logical flaws; can your kid find them?  Giving Charlie credit for this accomplishment is like giving bin Laden credit for winning the war on terrorism.  Charlie is the problem, not the solution; the success of this project was due not to evolution, but to intelligent design.
    Mr. Lohn and the author of this press release don’t even have a high school C student understanding of evolutionary theory.  Natural selection has no purpose, goal or direction.  There are no requirements.  This antenna project had requirements: “We told the computer program what performance the antenna should have,” the designer said.  The result “met the desired specifications for the mission.”  And this project employed algorithms, which are also hallmarks of intelligent guidance.  So forget the references to an evolutionary process; this was an exercise in artificial selection, not natural selection.  Artificial selection is a manifestation of intelligent design.  Phillip Johnson explained the contrast:

Plant and animal breeders employ intelligence and specialized knowledge to select breeding stock and to protect their charges from natural dangers.  The point of Darwin’s theory, however, was to establish that purposeless natural processes can substitute for intelligent design.  That he made that point by citing the accomplishments of intelligent designers proves only that the receptive audience for his theory was highly uncritical.
    Artificial selection is not basically the same sort of thing as natural selection, but rather is something fundamentally different.  Human breeders produce variations among sheep or pigeons for purposes absent in nature, including sheer delight in seeing how much variation can be achieved.  If the breeders were interested only in having animals capable of surviving in the wild, the extremes of variation would not exist.  When domestic animals return to the wild state, the most highly specialized breeds quickly perish and the survivors revert to the original wild type.  Natural selection is a conservative force that prevents the appearance of the extremes of variation that human breeders like to encourage.

(Darwin on Trial, pp. 17-18).

Johnson’s legal and logical expertise is brought to bear skillfully in his chapter on Natural Selection.  He examines the charge that natural selection is a tautology, a vacuous phrase that conveys no information.  In the case of the antenna, Jason Lohn defined “fitness” with words like strong and robust (see “Fitness for Dummies,” 10/29/2002 headline), but those are human-centric evaluations; does the antenna care whether it is strong or robust?  Real biologists understand that fitness has nothing to do with muscles or speed or anything else that we humans value.  It is only a mechanical measure of success in passing on genes.  Whenever natural selection is described in terms of success at reproduction, however, it reduces to a tautology, which by definition has no explanatory value: an organism is successful because it succeeds; a fit individual is fitter than the unfit; those who leave the most offspring leave the most offspring.  Phillip Johnson deals with the evolutionists’ comebacks to this charge, and demonstrates that, “in practice natural selection continues to be employed in its tautological formulation.”  He provides examples from leading evolutionists.
    So here were two glaring logical flaws in this story: fitness was defined in terms of value to human engineers, and intelligently-supervised results were ascribed to undirected processes.  It takes intelligence to design software that can sift through an enormous number of possibilities and detect the ones that best match the specifications.  Specification is a hallmark of intelligent design.  This story was not “patterned after Darwin’s survival of the fittest” the fact that it was patterned at all shows that it was designed.
    Not only is it illogical, it is plagiaristic to attribute what these engineers accomplished to Darwinian evolution.  The Intelligent Design Movement should get the credit.  If this were the only case, evolutionists might take offense at holding up this article as a bad example, but as we have shown in these pages, prominent evolutionists publishing in reputable journals frequently make this same logical error (see 12/30/2002, 12/13/2001, 12/19/2002, and 08/26/2003 headlines, for instance).  If evolutionists don’t understand their own theory, then the intelligent design scientists are going to have to continue to teach them all about it.
    Now ABC News got into the act.  They claim British scientists are using evolutionary theory to build fitter racing cars.  *Sigh*

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