Kludge

I mentioned evolution a couple of posts back, and now seems as good a time as any to comment on it.  Or rather to use it as a blatant springboard to start a post with, since I always have the devil’s own time figuring out how to begin.  I have no intention of arguing over the political game of “creation science” or “intelligent design” or whatever it’s being called now.  Science is a naturalistic discipline, ergo the supernatural has no place in it, and that, so far as I am concerned, is that.  But there is an argument that, because many parts of creation, and in particular the human body, are not optimally designed, they are unlikely to be the work of an intelligent Creator.

Before I even start, I should note that we’re in murky waters.  The Bible is not a science textbook, and does not give us a detailed roadmap of the exact relationship between Creator and Creation, or of the extent to which the Fall skews things.  Orthodoxy (the denomination of Christianity I follow) is “panentheistic”; i.e., while God is not the universe, we perceive of Him as pervading the universe and acting through every aspect of it.  At the same time, however, said universe is fallen, and the extent to which any particular ill can be attributed to God, Providence, Sin, Satan, etc. is a topic reserved for theologians to argue over, preferably in private, soundproofed rooms with no sharp objects in them.

With that said, the human body is not perfectly designed by a long shot.  Our lower backs are rather puny, for example, and there’s a great big blind spot in the exact rear of our eyes where the optic nerve joins.  Those are the two you hear about most often.  Supposedly they make more sense as the results of a long series of clumsy evolutionary compromises than as the work of an omniscient and intelligent Creator.  I used to find that reasoning pretty intimidating, until I started looking at the kinds of things actual human engineers work on.

Consider the internet, as I did when I went back to school for Cisco certification.  In some ways, the Internet is like a far, far simpler version of the Earth’s biosphere: you have a lot of distinct entities tied together in a convoluted web, interacting with each other.  While the big picture of the internet doesn’t change much, little bits are always being snipped off or added on here and there.  Routers get upgraded, servers get shut down, branch offices come online, and every now and then a new technology comes along that changes everything.  Right now we’re in the middle of a (relatively) slow transition to an internet composed mostly of wireless devices.  You hear talk of dumb agents like cars joining the system.  IPv6 is veeeery slowly gaining ground on IPv4.  And a number of other transitions are taking place at the same time, albeit more obscure ones.  For example, routers may eventually be replaced entirely by these doodads called Layer Three Switches, which work faster.  Don’t know what those are?  It doesn’t matter, since you’ll likely never notice the change.  But the internet never stops morphing.

All of that is being supervised by a lot of very intelligent people, who are busily uprooting the earlier work of a different group of very intelligent people.  And so on back to when the DOD was in charge.  And if you look more closely, you see that a lot of what makes the internet work is a bloody mess.  The constant change in technology and circumstances keeps forcing engineers to make a lot of goofy (or elegant, depending on perspective) adjustments to the existing system.  The only alternative would be to tear everything up the moment something changes, and re-establish the internet along grounds that make good sense for the new system.  But that wouldn’t be good sense at all, because such changes happen constantly.  We’d never stop tearing things up.

If you check your computer’s network settings, for example, you’ll likely find that its IP address begins with the numbers 192.168.  No packets–the discrete chunks of data every internet transaction is broken down into–from an address beginning with those two numbers are allowed on the internet; they will be thrown away by the first router to receive them.  So every packet you send must have its address switched to one that is allowed, and the reply switched back.  It all has to happen because there are too few IP addresses to go around, so large numbers of individual users end up using the fiddly, bizarre system I just described, which is known as Network Address Translation, or NAT.  There’s also IPv6, which was invented to solve the address limit problem, among others, but implementing it is even more awkward, and NAT works, so most engineers stick with NAT.

I believe this is an example of what engineers generally call “kludge”: an inelegant, ugly, patched-together solution to a problem which somehow manages to work.  Nobody actually likes kludge, but we have a word for it because it happens an awful lot.  And it happens a lot, I think, because much of the time it’s the most sensible handling of a situation, if not the only possible handling.  Real-world problems tend to come with strict constraints: limited budget, limited time, limited manpower, limited materials, changing design requirements.  Perfect, elegant solutions are for pure theorists, who operate without such constraints.  And they aren’t always available even for them; the Standard Model, physicists’ current picture of How It All Works, depends on the existence of something like seventeen different fundamental particles.  It drives some of them crazy, I hear, but it’s the best they can come up with at present.  The universe, apparently, is kludge.

Because–omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence notwithstanding–a creator God would work under much the same constraints as a human engineer, or team of human engineers, working on a complex system like the internet.  Given a few basic assumptions:

  1. The universe is very old,
  2. The universe is not static or monolithic, but consists of distinct interacting parts, and
  3. God generally does not choose to tear out and rebuild everything to re-optimize when stuff changes,

God is more or less compelled to follow the way of kludge, which would yield results pretty hard to distinguish, from our perspective, from blind evolution.  He has the advantage of being able to see the future, and if need be intervene “miraculously” (whatever that distinction would mean from a panentheistic perspective), but also the disadvantage of working on a system infinitely more complicated than anything humans ever devised, or likely ever will.  If He is nudging the system at all it is necessarily in subtle ways, perpetually tweaking each individual part to respond to changes in other parts, which changed in response to other parts, and so on.

And we do the same.  Because it’s the easy, sensible thing to do?  Or because we’re made in His image?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s