Part 4, The Language of Computer Science, Chapters 12- Mutatis Mutandis
By Andy Walsh
We been blogging through the book, “Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science” by Andy Walsh. Today is Chapter 12- Mutatis Mutandis with which we will wrap up our review. Chapter 11 is titled BASIC Actions Simulate Infinite Complexity and was a discourse in the math and computer science behind movie graphics. Walsh does have a tendency to wander around a bit and stretch the metaphors to near breaking point sometimes. He just lost me in Chapter 11, so we’ll skip it.
The purpose Walsh had for writing this book was to read the Bible and science together in a way that enriches both. So far, in the book he has not touched on evolution. He says:
When I first conceived of this book, evolution was not included. Creationism, intelligent design, and evolution have been discussed ad nauseum in a variety of books, videos, podcasts, debates, freshman dorms, and sarcastic memes. I felt like there was plenty new to say about science and the Bible beyond the first three (or eleven, since Noah’s flood often gets dragged in as well) chapters of Genesis. And evolution is so challenging for many Christians that the word itself can shut down a conversation effectively enough to warrant its own corollary to Godwin’s law.
By the same token, though it is the topic; neglecting it altogether would be like Star Trek without time travel, a Marvel movie without a credits scene, a version of Sherlock Holmes without any mention of the women, Irene Adler. If we are going to develop the church body as a place where the science literate and the science enthusiastic are welcome, then we need to deal with evolution credibly and not just hold it at arm’s length. We also need to respect the reality of the Christian community and appreciate that this elephant cannot be swallowed all at once.
His solution is to explore evolution the way he tackled every other topic; as a model, a parable, a useful idea independent of its accuracy as a description of reality. He thinks by the last chapter he has established his credibility to discuss evolution’s metaphorical potential in a way that he feels is biblically sound and scientifically rigorous.
First, several of the illustrations he has used actually demonstrate one or more mechanisms of evolution. Proposing theorems and proving them true or false? That’s variation and selection. The body’s immune system T-cell training is another form of selection. The divergence of Mac and PC software? That’s speciation.
Second, many of the concepts that he’s discussed come into play in evolution and could be derived from evolution. Like fractal algorithms, evolution is an iterative process involving simple mechanisms. There were several major cooperative milestones that expanded evolutionary potential significantly. These include the combination of individually replicating genes into chromosomes, the combination of individual cells into multicellular organisms, and in social organisms the combination of multiple organisms into colonies, hives, and communities.
Like compilers, evolution employs just-in-time adaptation to keep up with a changing environment. Like ant colonies and possibly consciousness, evolution starts from the bottom up. It can be fruitful without a defined end goal or a central planner. Like our bodies, evolution is a balance of cooperation and defection. As with infectious diseases, there will always be the possibility for conflict, imbalance, and the few to exploit the efforts of the many. Like a developing body, evolution relies on varying contexts to provide shades of meaning and interpretation that facilitate diversity. As a process of chemistry and life, evolution is a balance of information entropy and information storage.
Like momentum and velocity, evolution is relative and depends on the specific features of the biologic space in which it operates. Fitness is not an absolute scale but is always assessed in relationship to the present environment, and always in relationship to other variations. Like photons, evolution challenges our existing categories. Like chaotic dynamics, evolution involves freedom and grace. The nature of the genetic code for translating DNA into proteins is such that it allows for some deviations in genetic sequence with change in protein sequence. This is a first level of grace, where multiple variations can lead to the same end result. Similar graciousness exists at the level of protein function and metabolism. There are even multiple ways to achieve high-level functions like vision and flight.
Like an optimization search, evolution is subject to multiple constraints and there are consequences for choosing different paths. Therefore the results of evolution are not guaranteed to be optimal by any single criterion because of the other constraints involved. Like proving theorems from axioms, evolution is an exploration of a space defined by starting assumptions. Before we can even get to living organisms, the laws of physics and the properties of chemicals put constraints on life. Just like some theorems are true and some are false relative to particular axioms, some organisms are viable and some are not.
Well, Andy Walsh has shared his personal interest in the Bible, in science, and in science fiction and he tried to harmonize his passions into a coherent narrative. Did he succeed? Did he define abstract ideas like faith and sin and grace in terms that make sense to nerdy, funny scientists? Walsh strongly feels that there is fruitfulness of using science to discuss the Bible, because it speaks of the common authorship of the two. It pains him, and it pains me (and maybe it pains God); the fact so many feel they need to choose between science and the belief in the God of the Bible.
Overall, well done, Andy Walsh.