Pope, Evolution, Computation

Nicholas Gessler (gessler@UCLA.EDU)
Mon, 28 Oct 1996 10:53:33 -0800

Thanks to John's for his personal email.

What effect will the Pope's "acceptance" have? Good question. I don't have
an answer. However, I was pleased at the Pope's announcement, since I
corresponded with the Vatican during the recent Galileo affair asking them
their stand on evolution. I think it is remarkable that they have
"accepted" these two sciences within a decade. From what the Pope said, it
seems that they are reserving the "god given" qualities of consciousness for
themselves as products of "divine creation." Let the body evolve, but God
has placed within it "a soul." Their next challenge will be to answer the
question, "can a computer have a soul?" Ah well... One measures progress
in steps: Little ones to us, big ones to them. At least it gives the
creationists one less authority to base their arguments upon.

It's interesting, your comment about the common misconception, that we have
evolved from monkeys, rather than that we, and monkeys, have evolved from a
common ancestor. That confusion is manifest even among the educated but in
another domain: When some of us, citing advances in artificial
intelligence, say that we are computers or that culture and biology are both
evolutionary (Darwinian rather than Lamarckian), we are met with the same
objections: "We don't look like PCs and MACs" and "culture is Lamarckian
while biology is Darwinian and they operate so very differently" that these
people reject the argument on its face. However, just like the example you
site, the key to understanding these processes is looking back at the common
generational causes. So, to say that we are computers means that we and
computers have evolved as different instantiations of a deeper process of
computation which we are just beginning to understand. And similarly, to
say that culture and biology are evolutionary products means that they are
both different instantiations of deeper generative processes of adaptation
through natural selection.

I think the confusion comes from a belief that the world is just as it at
first appears, fragmented into separate unrelated domains. This view leaves
little room for connectedness between the customary academic disciplines.
Perhaps it is the paradigm of emergence under which phenomena are nested in
a hierarchical tree of causation, from the micro to the macroscopic, that
encourages the search for deeper connections among branches on what has been
called "the universal tree of life." enough said...