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Further Reading


Biological Software

Darwin Can't Connect Your iPod to a Printer

by Richard W. Stevens

In the burgeoning world of hi-tech handheld gadgets, nothing comes close to Apple's iPod Touch. Like some of its competitor products, the iPod1 plays music and video files, takes photographs, stores all kinds of personal scheduling and calendar information, and connects to the internet via wireless remote.

But you cannot print files directly from an iPod. You can send and receive email with it, and store data on it, but you cannot hook it up to a printer and print the data out.

Why not?, you may ask. After all, the current model iPods have USB connectors, which physically can connect to printer cables. So why can't you just plug in a printer and go?

Well, you can try it, but nothing will happen. And the reason for this, once explained, not only becomes obvious, but also can lead to a fundamental worldview shift.

Download the Right App

Let's start with what we already know. When you get an iPod, a Blackberry, or other similar computer device, you see that it comes preloaded with a set of features and functions. Among these, you'll often find various games. The game of chess, however, typically does not come installed. If you want to play chess on your device, you need to download an "app."

"App" is short for "application," which in turn is short for "application program." An app is a computer program, which is a set of symbolic instructions arranged and ordered to get a device to perform a task. A collection of such instructions is called software.

The electronics—the physical equipment within the iPod or other device—is called the hardware. The hardware can do almost nothing without software. When you turn on an iPod, it takes a moment to boot up. During that delay, the device is loading the operating system, that is, the software that directs the iPod hardware to do various things. When you start a function or run an app, you are starting other software that directs the iPod to carry out all of the tasks involved in the function you've chosen.

For most iPod, iPhone, Blackberry, and Wii users, these facts are not surprising. To do anything with computer hardware, you need an app, that is, you need software. The equipment doesn't just run by itself.

So, again, why can't you simply connect a printer to your iPod and print? After all, you have the hardware: the iPod device, the printer, the cable. And the iPod already has some software: the operating system, other apps, etc. What's missing?

The iPod cannot send documents to the printer and have it print them because there is no app for that function. Computer people know the special term, "driver software"—the software program that enables computer devices to work with printers, scanners, monitors, gaming joysticks, and more. You can't connect to and use new hardware without also having the software—the app, the driver, etc.—that knows how to instruct the new hardware in what to do.

Animal Hardware Needs Apps, Too

Worldview issues arise as these concepts are applied to biology. Think of any mammal, bird, insect, or reptile. We think of such animals first in relation to their physical characteristics—their skin, legs, feet, heads, eyes, skeletons, muscles, circulatory systems, nerves, joints, and so on. Animals' physical features, including their internal organs, are their biological hardware. Just as iPods and other computer devices have a collection of components that can perform functions, so do the animals.

Here's the link from the iPod to animal biology: Merely possessing a hardware item does not mean the device can use it. In the case of the iPod, just having a USB port, a cable, and a printer does not mean the iPod can get things printed. Without the appropriate app—without the software—the iPod cannot use the new printer hardware.

The same is true for living organisms. Just because an animal has legs does not mean it can use them. A brain-damaged animal, for example, can have two, four, or even six legs and still not be able to walk. Without the proper know-how, an animal cannot use its legs. Legs don't run by themselves.

That know-how is a form of programmed intelligence.2 Using a leg requires lots of it. Somewhere in the animal must be a set of instructions that direct the leg to lift, extend, stop, apply pressure, reverse course, stop, reverse pressure, and lift again—all in coordination with the other legs that are doing the same thing—and then to repeat that sequence over and over again. Quickly. Precisely. Tirelessly.

To walk requires a set of instructions. In The Advent of the Algorithm, David Berlinski observes that "locomotion" occurs by the operation of "powerful computational routines." Jumping, running, skipping, and crawling all require different sets of instructions. Therefore, to operate a biological hardware component, such as a leg, requires a set of instructions. Evolutionary scientist Ernst Mayr referred to the instruction sets for biological hardware as "somatic programs." We can call them biological software.

The Crucial Algo-whatzit?

The concept of worldview enters a discussion when our understanding of something depends upon how we view the big picture. When we realize that every biological hardware system requires biological software to operate it, then we have leapt with both feet into a worldview that is compatible with intelligent design but poses grave problems for Darwinism. Here's why.

Mathematicians and computer scientists have established that, if we can describe a process as a tightly defined series of steps, then we can program a simple hypothetical computer to carry out those steps. Such a series of steps is called an algorithm. The hypothetical computer is called the Turing Machine, named after its inventor.

Software, such as computer programs and apps, carries out algorithms. All computer hardware systems follow the path of the Turing Machine. As David Berlinski has explained, we know of no other way to perform a finite step-by-step process than by following an algorithm.3 That means, for the Turing Machine, that it must get the first instruction from the set, decode it, execute it, then get the next instruction and do the same, and so on through the whole set.

It can be no different for animals using their legs (or any other hardware feature). There must be biological software to operate those legs. There is no other conceivable way for hardware to operate than to have some source of information directing it to carry out its functions. And that means there must be software, a series of stored instructions that are fetched, decoded, and executed, one after another.

Evolution Deals Only with Hardware

Now, visit a natural history museum or open a book about evolution. Nearly all you'll see are diagrams and discussions of physical features: feet, beaks, wings, tails, toes, hair, skin, etc. The fossil record shows nothing other than the markings left by certain anatomical parts of ancient creatures. In other words, you will see or read about animal hardware. You'll see little or nothing in discussions of evolution that describes how the biological software came to exist.

Yet you cannot operate biological hardware without the corresponding biological software.4 An animal species that "evolves" a physical set of legs cannot use them without having also "evolved" the software to operate those legs. Believe it or not, a printer is much simpler than a leg, yet an iPod cannot operate a printer without the appropriate software. The algorithm needed to operate a printer exists in software, i.e., in an app. There must, therefore, be an algorithm to operate a leg, or the animal cannot use the leg.

It gets worse for the evolutionary view. Natural selection is supposedly the creative process of evolution. An organism with a trait that confers a survival or reproduction benefit will out-compete other individuals not having the feature. But any new physical hardware feature will be worthless to an animal—and to its species—if it lacks the software to use it. In fact, the new hardware could be a detriment: A leg, without leg software, will be just a big, fat waste of space, if not an outright burden to the animal.

Half the Story Isn't Fact

You can't print from an iPod by connecting it to a printer unless you also have the software app to do it. The same is true for every animal with physical features such as legs, jaws, eyes, thumbs, wings, etc. If the animal lacks the proper biological software, then the animal cannot use the physical feature. If the animal cannot use the hardware, then the hardware will not confer a survival advantage. In that case, natural selection will tend to discontinue that animal's line, along with its hardware.

Neo-Darwinism has difficulty explaining how the biological software was installed for each new feature that appeared on the evolutionary scene. Software typically requires many lines of code (coded instructions) to be present and functional—all at once—or it doesn't work. Could mere undirected mutations produce so much complexity in one fell swoop? No—the probability is extremely low, too low to be plausible under natural conditions.

Moreover, natural selection does not explain how biological software could be tested to see if it worked with any given piece of biological hardware. Thus, modern evolutionary biology typically just ignores the problem of software. In his 2004 book, What Makes Biology Unique, Ernst Mayr considered the issue "irrelevant" and a matter of mere chemistry and physics.5

But you cannot understand even a simple computer system without understanding its software. A computer-science graduate who knew only about hardware and nothing about software couldn't even be competent, much less an authority, on computers. Likewise, scientists cannot proclaim, "Evolution is a proven fact," based solely on their knowledge of physical hardware, while they fail to consider biological operating software entirely.

Who knew that the iPod could help people recognize a fundamental concept of intelligent design? 

1. The terms iPod, iPhone, Blackberry, and Wii are trademarks held by their registered owners.
2. Donald E. Johnson, Programming of Life (Big Mac Publishers, 2010), pp. 39–43.
3. David Berlinski, The Advent of the Algorithm (Harcourt, 2000), pp. xvi, 183–188, 254, 270–273, 315–316.
4. Richard W. Stevens, "Can Evolution Make New Biological Software?", Creation Research Society Quarterly (Summer 2009), pp. 17–24.
5. Ernst Mayr, What Makes Biology Unique (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 55, 61.

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