Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 113–118 | Cite as

Simulation of biological evolution under attack, but not really: a response to Meester

  • Stefaan BlanckeEmail author
  • Maarten Boudry
  • Johan Braeckman


The leading Intelligent Design theorist William Dembski (Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MD, 2002) argued that the first No Free Lunch theorem, first formulated by Wolpert and Macready (IEEE Trans Evol Comput 1: 67–82, 1997), renders Darwinian evolution impossible. In response, Dembski’s critics pointed out that the theorem is irrelevant to biological evolution. Meester (Biol Phil 24: 461–472, 2009) agrees with this conclusion, but still thinks that the theorem does apply to simulations of evolutionary processes. According to Meester, the theorem shows that simulations of Darwinian evolution, as these are typically set in advance by the programmer, are teleological and therefore non-Darwinian. Therefore, Meester argues, they are useless in showing how complex adaptations arise in the universe. Meester uses the term “teleological” inconsistently, however, and we argue that, no matter how we interpret the term, a Darwinian algorithm does not become non-Darwinian by simulation. We show that the NFL theorem is entirely irrelevant to this argument, and conclude that it does not pose a threat to the relevance of simulations of biological evolution.


Evolution Evolutionary algorithms Natural selection Simulation No Free Lunch theorems 



Stefaan Blancke’s research is supported by grant BOF08/24J/041 from Ghent University. Maarten Boudry is a doctoral fellow of FWO Flanders. The authors would like to thank Olle Häggström, Peter Olofsson, Mark Perakh and Kim Sterelny for their helpful remarks on earlier drafts of this paper.


  1. Dawkins R (1986) The blind watchmaker. Longman Scientific & Technical, HarlowGoogle Scholar
  2. Dembski WA (2002) No free lunch: why specified complexity cannot be purchased without intelligence. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MDGoogle Scholar
  3. Dennett DC (1995) Darwin’s dangerous idea. Penguin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Häggström O (2007a) Intelligent design and the NFL theorems. Biol Philos 22:217–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Häggström O (2007b) Uniform distribution is a model assumption. Available from Accessed on 3 Oct 2009
  6. Lenski RE, Ofria C, Pennock RT, Adami C (2003) The evolutionary origin of complex features. Nature 423:139–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Meester R (2003) Het pseudoniem van God. Een wiskundige over geloof, wetenschap en toeval (A pseudonym of God. A mathematician on religion science and chance). Ten Have, BaarnGoogle Scholar
  8. Meester R (2006) Mijn God, ik weet niet wie Gij zijt, maar wel dat Gij niet zijt een god naar mensentrant (My Lord, I don’t know who Thou art, but I know that Thou art not a God after the image of man). In: Dekker C, Meester R, van Woudenberg R (eds) En God beschikte een worm. Over schepping en evolutie (And God prepared a worm. On creation and evolution). Ten Have, Kampen, pp 282–298Google Scholar
  9. Meester R (2009) Simulation of biological evolution and the NFL theorems. Biol Philos 24:461–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Orr HA (2002) Book review: no free lunch. Boston review (summer issue)Google Scholar
  11. Perakh M (2002) A free lunch in a mousetrap. Available from Accessed on 12 Sept 2009
  12. Perakh M (2003) The no free lunch theorems and their application to evolutionary algorithms. Available from Accessed on 12 Sept 2009
  13. Perakh M (2004) There is a free lunch after all. William Dembski’s wrong answers to irrelevant questions. In: Young M, Edis T (eds) Why intelligent design fails: A scientific critique of the new creationism. Rutgers University Press, NJ, pp 153–171Google Scholar
  14. Rosenhouse J (2002) Probability, optimization theory and evolution. Evolution 56(8):1721Google Scholar
  15. Sarkar S (2007) Doubting Darwin? creationist designs on evolution. Blackwell, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  16. Shallit J (2002) Book review: no free lunch. Biosystems 66:93–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Wein R (2002a) Not a free lunch but a box of chocolates: a critique of William Dembski’s book No free lunch. Available from
  18. Wein R (2002b) Response? What response? How Dembski has avoided addressing my arguments. Available from Accessed on 15 Sept 2009
  19. Wolpert DH (2002) William Dembski’s treatment of the no free lunch theorems is written in jello. Available from Accessed on 15 Sept 2009
  20. Wolpert DH, Macready WG (1997) No free lunch theorems for optimization. IEEE Trans Evol Comput 1:67–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefaan Blancke
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maarten Boudry
    • 1
  • Johan Braeckman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department for Philosophy and Moral SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

Personalised recommendations