September 4, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Spore Game: Evolution or ID?

Spore is a highly-anticipated computer game that just came out.  Evolutionists are claiming it as a model of how life evolves – but intelligent-design advocates are calling it an ID game, pure and simple.  Who’s right?
    Carl Zimmer, a science writer, is among those counting Spore points for Darwin.  His blog entry from Discover Magazine leads to an article on the New York Times sporting a large depiction of Tiktaalik, the alleged fish evolving legs (04/06/2006).  In “Gaming Evolves,” Zimmer gets evolutionary biologists to comment on the game.  The reviews are positive but mixed.  They enjoy the game, but Dr. Richard Prum commented, “The mechanism is severely messed up.”  Presumably it does not accurately depict the neo-Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutations.  The game only touches on some of the big questions of evolutionary biology, Prum continued: What is the origin of complexity?  And how contingent is evolution on happenstance?  Nevertheless, he feels that if it helps players ask these questions, “that would be great.”
    Spore was written by Will Wright, author of the popular game SimCity and its spin-offs.  Wright was motivated by the work of evolutionary biologists and prior simulations like Avida (05/08/2003) and Evarium.  In Spore, he wanted to “give players an experience of life and the universe across billions of years, from microscopic creatures to interstellar civilizations.”  So he invented a virtual landscape that allows players to create organisms that mate and evolve and deal with the unexpected.  The question remains: is this evolution or intelligent design?
    The game avoids the problem of the origin of life by starting with spores from outer space.  Then, players exercise choice and direction over what happens:

The game begins with a meteorite crashing into a planet, sowing its oceans with life and organic matter.  Players control a simple creature that gobbles up bits of debris.  They can choose to eat other creatures or eat vegetation or both.  As the creature eats and grows, it gains DNA points, which the player can use to add parts like tails for swimming or spikes for defense.  Once the creature has gotten big and complex enough, it is ready for the transition to land.
    On land, the creatures can grow legs, wings and other new parts.  And it is at this point that some of Spore’s features really shine.  Mr. Wright’s team has written software that can rapidly transform creatures in an infinite number of ways, as players add parts and alter their size, shape and position.

In other words, players don’t need to sit and wait for millions of years with hands off; the game puts control in their hands in time-lapse.  Is that evolution?  Furthermore, it is doubtful if Wright would take kindly to hear his software attributed to chance and necessity.  Nevertheless, he feels that the balance between cooperation and competition designed into the game is what drives the emergence of complexity in the wild.
    Meanwhile, over at the SETI Institute, Frank and Jill and the other alien-hunters are going nuts playing Spore games during work hours, building Mr. Alien Potato-Head and other imaginary creatures.  Seth Shostak, director, is even joining in the fun.  He wrote for Space.com that it’s not only fun, it could inspire young people to become scientists (hopefully SETI members).  “When you’re young, it’s the inspiration that counts – the emotional appeal,” he said proudly.
    Some evolutionists, though, have noticed the chinks in the claim the game represents evolution.  They might be worried the “design flaws” (so to speak) could be exploited by members of the intelligent design community.  They seem eager to state up front, therefore, that Spore is not quite like “real” evolution.  Zimmer explained on page 3,

Even as scientists praise Spore, they voice concerns about how the game does not match evolution.  In the real world, new traits evolve as mutations arise and spread gradually through entire populations.  Winning Spore’s DNA points does not work even as a remote metaphor.
    “I do hope that it doesn’t confuse people as to what evolution is all about,” said Charles Ofria, a computer scientist at Michigan State University and a creator of Avida.
    Spore may also mislead players with the way it is set up as a one-dimensional march of progress from single-cell life to intelligence.  Evolution is more like a tree than a line, with species branching in millions of directions.  Sometimes species become more complex, and sometimes they become less so.  And sometimes they do not change at all.  “There’s no progressive arrow that dominates nature,” Dr. Prum said.
    These caveats notwithstanding, Dr. [Thomas] Near [Yale] hopes that Spore prompts people to think about the evolutionary process.  “This may be totally off about how evolution works, but I’d much rather be dealing with a student who says, ‘O.K., I have no problem with evolution; I think about it the same way I think about gravity.’”  If it does that, it’ll be great.”

This seems to imply that Spore does not have value in convincing non-believers in evolution, but only in reinforcing the convictions of those who already have “no problem with evolution.”
    Another scientist who liked Spore in spite of its faults was Neil Shubin, discoverer of Tiktaalik (04/06/2006) and author of Your Inner Fish (01/16/2008)  He didn’t mind its differences with nature.  It’s only a game, he reminded everyone.  “It is not identical to nature, but it is a world that evolves, that changes and where the players are part of those processes.”  Shubin was especially pleased with the Tiktaalik that he and Wright “designed” in Spore, if one will pardon the expression.  But if players can design body parts and direct what happens, is it really a world that evolves?
    Seth Shostak revealed that the game’s creator “has frequently visited the SETI Institute, and says he drew inspiration for the new game from its various research programs.”  Will Wright had a curious metaphor for his game.  He called it “manure to seed future scientists.”

Since future scientists are presumably human beings and not plants, it is disgusting to spread manure on them.  Will Wright may be a clever inventor like Wilbur Wright, but in the unforgiving air of critical analysis of evolution, his invention won’t fly.  Adding a lot of hot air underneath violates the rules.
    It’s no wonder evolutionists love this game.  They live in Fantasyland, where Tinker Bell helps them wish upon a star, and all their Darwinian dreams come true.  They love digital organisms, not real ones.  They flourish in a playground where imagination is king.  They don’t want students to learn about evolution; they want them to have an experience of it.  They want their minds to soar off into millions of mythical years where miracles happen, given enough time.  If they really wanted a real-world simulation of evolution, they would turn the computer off and shake it for a million years.
    The perceptive onlooker sees intelligent design all over the place (cf. 11/14/2006).  It took ID to build the hardware.  It took ID to write the software.  It takes ID for the players to guide the outcomes according to their own purposes and plans.  And all the complex organs – wings, lungs and legs that Spore conjures up on demand – are conveniently pre-designed in software modules.  To really simulate Darwin’s scenario, how about we take the players’ hands off the controls and throw in a few random mutations in the code from time to time.
    The awarding of “DNA points” to fake organisms unmasks the hype that somehow Spore represents evolution.  In nature, who rewards anyone?  Survival is not a reward.  The last man standing is not necessarily going to be rewarded with wings.  It’s the origin of innovative function that is the problem.  Wright designed an evolutionary algorithm to solve the problem, but it presupposes a purpose and direction that nature cannot provide.  As William Dembski proved in No Free Lunch, no evolutionary algorithm, when stripped of auxiliary information, is superior to blind search.  The giving of awards to help evolution represents the insertion of auxiliary information into the system – a form of cheating.  With deft analogies and rigorous mathematical reasoning, Dembski reduces all evolutionary algorithms to blind search, and then shows mathematically that getting complex specified information at the complexity level of life by blind search is less probable than the universal probability bound of one chance in 10-150 – i.e., it will never happen.
    Evolutionists deceive themselves into thinking this game has anything to do with evolutionary theory.  Then they deceive players and students quite literally by enticing them to “think about the evolutionary process” with a game that is literally saturated with intelligent-design requirements.  Chalk this up as another example of the “useful lie” tactic with which evolutionary manure is spread on the unsuspecting (e.g., 06/29/2007).
    If you’re a vegetable (e.g., a couch potato), you might enjoy the fertilizer.  Future sentient scientists, however, need nutritious food, exercise, sound reasoning, ethics and a valid education about the real world – not manure.

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