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


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.

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    Meester is not an ID proponent as such, because he refuses to infer the existence of a designer. However, he does think that ID, and the concept of irreducible complexity in particular, “poses a serious problem to a Darwinist scenario” (Meester 2003, p. 152). And he claims that “at some points, the ID movement does an excellent job, and on those points I have defended it. In particular, it successfully attacks the popular idea that evolutionary biology only needs to fill in some small gaps.” (Meester 2006, p. 296).


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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.

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Correspondence to Stefaan Blancke.

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Blancke, S., Boudry, M. & Braeckman, J. Simulation of biological evolution under attack, but not really: a response to Meester. Biol Philos 26, 113–118 (2011).

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  • Evolution
  • Evolutionary algorithms
  • Natural selection
  • Simulation
  • No Free Lunch theorems