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Wednesday, Feb 22, 2006

Evolution and the EE

Electronic Engineering Times is a venerable trade weekly. They actually do some reporting, which puts them head and shoulders above the majority of trade publications. In addition to technology reporting, they're willing to tackle the political, military, economic, and societal impact of the technologies that are their central focus.

The "Crosstalk" section for readers' letters has always been my favorite bit. Some may find this hard to believe, but some engineers can be opinionated and acerbic at times.

With amusement, I came across a series of letters about "Intelligent Design" in the last few issues. I love a good engineer-on-engineer smack down. It's like two Vulcans arguing. Or in this case, a few Vulcans vs. a couple of idiots.

Jack Atkinson of Alabama penned a letter, "'Particles to man' evolution is only a theory-an absurd one", in response to an article about problems in science education in America.. Jack felt that curtailing the teaching of evolutionary theory would in no way affect the future science and technology careers of students. ('Cause that's how they roll in 'Bama.)

The following two issues continue the superstition vs. science debate, with superstition taking it on the chin. My favorite is this sharp response by William Gascoyne of San Jose. He uses the cold, dry logic of an engineer confronted by idiocy.

Jack Atkinson Jr.'s letter is straight Bible Belt creationist tripe. It's an argument from incredulity ("I have qualifications that have nothing to do with the issue, and I can't imagine 'X,' Q.E.D.") combined with an argument from authorities (Gitt and Behe) who have been discredited.

The February 20th edition carried more, including a pro-superstition writer who asserts:
Naturalistic evolution is the antithesis to engineering. Engineers understand that complex structures are intelligently designed, not the product of random variations.
Seems like someone didn't read all those Artificial Intelligence articles in the Times back during the 80's. And how about those randomized place-and-route algorithms that have driven FPGA design for over a decade? Or ripup-and-retry autorouters for PC boards? The use of random design variations coupled with "fitness selection" officially qualifies as a non-leading-edge, established, routine methodology, not "the antithesis of engineering".

- mark 2-22-2006 12:35 pm [link] [11 refs] [5 comments]