Evolution and Software – A Fundamental Misunderstanding – or an Outright Fraud?

“Digital Snake Oil”

MIT Technology review published an online article titled, “Evolutionary algorithm outperforms deep-learning machines at video games[1] I wondered to myself what do they mean by “evolutionary”?  Though it’s impossible, could they really mean evolution as in Darwinian evolution, or were they just using evolution to mean successive changes in design, the way we might say something like “the evolution of the car has gone from the Model T to the Mustang”, in which case we don’t really mean Darwinian evolution – we’re really just talking about successive changes in the design of an item.

But as I read on, I was amazed to read that they were really talking about Darwinian processes: “This technique is based on the process that created the human brain—evolution.” (Darwinists believe the most complex biological organ known to man came about by ignorant, random, purposeless forces.) The technique they’re referring to is a new approach to computer programming, and the evolution they are referring to is in fact Darwinian evolution. They make that clear in the next sentences:

“In other words, a sequence of iterative change and selection that produced the most complex and capable machines known to humankind—the eye, the wing, the brain, and so on. The power of evolution is a wonder to behold.”

Only true believers in Darwinian evolution (which means they have blinders firmly in place) naively believe that “complex and capable machines” such as “the eye, the wing, the brain, and so on” – items which are clearly evidence of an intelligent designer – are in any way products of evolution. So question 1: Are they really referring to Darwinian evolution? Yes, they are.  Which brings us to question 2: Are they really trying to use Darwinian evolutionary processes to create the best computer code known to man? Again, the answer is yes. As they put it“An entirely different type of computing has the potential to be significantly more powerful than neural networks and deep learning.”

Which leads me to the question in the title of this article: are the authors of the article ignorant of what Darwinian evolution teaches and requires, or do they know and are just outright lying and perpetrating a grand fraud to promote the idolatry that is Darwinian Evolution? Let me present some observations and then offer a suggestion.


What they are referring to as “evolutionary” processes in their approach to writing code cannot possibly be “evolutionary”.  What they are doing is unadulterated intelligent design. Here’s why.

First: “Selection is not Teleological (goal-directed).”
That statement is from the highly regarded evolutionist Ernst Mayr. One could say he literally wrote the book on what evolution is – and isn’t. In that book, titled “What Evolution Is” Mayr explains that one of the driving forces behind Darwinian evolution – (natural) selection – does not have a goal in mind. To explain further he says: “To say it in other words, evolution is not deterministic.”[2]

In other words, evolution does not and more importantly cannot have a goal. It’s mindless, sightless, thoughtless, purposeless. It cannot have a goal. It can’t work to achieve a specific goal,  purpose or outcome. Because as soon as you have a goal – you must have a goal setter – or designer, and once you do, immediately you’re in the realm of intelligent design. Yet creating a specific outcome is precisely what these code creators are doing:

The goal is to create computer code that solves a specific problem…”


“It starts with code generated entirely at random. And not just one version of it, but lots of versions, sometimes hundreds of thousands of randomly assembled pieces of code. 

Each of these codes is tested to see whether it achieves the required goal.”[3]

So their process starts with intelligently designed code, and then they put it through another (intelligently designed) process intended to direct the various pieces of bits of intelligently designed code to a specific, even more intelligent, purposeful goal.  They may believe what they’re doing is “evolutionary”, but by definition it cannot be evolution. It is in fact Intelligent Design applied to software.

Second, The Code Designers have Programmed a Selection Process

The article goes on to explain the code makers process:

Each of the new generation is then tested to see how well it works. The best pieces of code are preferentially reproduced in another generation, and so on.”[4]

Not only have the code designers selected a particular goal to aim for – something true evolutionary process cannot do – they’ve even programmed their system with a means of selecting that better code. They’ve provided an algorithm for selecting what code is “better.”

This violates many evolutionary principles. First off, in evolution, there is no good or bad. Which is why evolutionary philosophy is not opposed to, and even supports moral evils such as racism and abortion. The fact that they are selecting something that’s “better” means they’ve added a value system – which of course cannot exist in Darwinian evolution. Value systems requires a Value maker.  Evolutionists of course deny the value maker – God. Thus if they truly want their system to behave like Darwinian Evolution, they cannot inject any values like “better code” and “working better.”

Second, another principle they’ve violated is the introduction of human selection (otherwise known as intelligent design) where natural selection should be.  How does a computer “preferentially” reproduce code? The only way a computer can do that is if you program it to do it. You first (intelligently determine) what’s better, then you give the computer an (intelligently designed) algorithm to select that better code.  The researchers are no doubt trying to emulate natural selection, but that is impossible in this scenario. Computers only do what you program them to do. Thus they cannot select “the best pieces of code” unless you program into them – how to identify what is better (and thus best); and what method, what process, what algorithm the computer will use to select the better.  Intelligently programming a computer to make intelligent choices is not Darwinian evolution. It is intelligent design.

Why is MIT allowing this to be called “Evolutionary”

Clearly what these researches are doing has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution. They may be using an iterative process, but virtually every software maker does that. That’s why software is labeled with versions, whether it be a sequential number like version 1, version 2, etc.; or based on a year, like Windows 95, 98, 2000, etc.  With all of the elements of design inherent in the process why do they insist on calling it evolutionary?


So is it a fundamental misunderstanding or an outright lie? Before I answer that let me remind you that:

1. Believers in evolution have blinders on.
They will not allow themselves to see the elements of design even when it’s readily apparent, nor even when they themselves are engaging in the design (and calling it evolution). So that’s the first problem: They are in denial of clear examples of design in God’s creation. So it should come as no surprise that they’re in denial of design in their own research.

2.  Years of  Imprecision and Mis-identification
Darwin did manage to make a legitimate observation: Natural Selection can work to change the expression of existing properties in a particular type of creature.  Darwin is famous for his observation of finch beaks – how they would change in size due to changes in the environment.  Those with the right sized beak for the changed environment survived – thus there is a “natural selection” process in effect – “natural” as opposed to “human” selection like what a breeder might do.  Many call those minor changes “evolution.” And it is this lack of precision that causes much confusion. Properly identified – what Darwin observed is microevolution – otherwise known as variation. There are changes in a particular feature of a creature – in this case beak size – but the finches are still finches.  What confuses many is they believe microevolution can lead to macroevolution – having the finches turn into another kind of creature – like a dinosaur for example. (Don’t laugh – many evolutionists actually believe the dinosaurs evolved into birds.) This lack of precision combined with the next error appears to grease the skids of the sleds of scientists carelessly attributing unknown processes or designed processes to evolution:

3. The Snake Oil Effect
Just as Darwin managed to make a legitimate observation, snake oil originally had a legitimate medicinal value – and actually worked:

“The original snake oil actually had some value. There was a Chinese water snake rich in omega 3 acids and it was good in terms of treating inflammations.”[5]
Dr. Elizabeth Kelly, Associate Prof Of History, Towson University


“The fact is that snake oil was first brought to this country by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century who were working on the transcontinental railroad. That was  amazingly back-breaking work. Your joints were swollen and sore all the time and they would rub Chinese snake oil on them.”[6]
Eleanor Herman, Author/Historian

So the original snake oil was legitimate medicine for a specific purpose.  But con men seeing an opportunity in the demand for the medicine combined with a lack of regulation hopped on the band wagon to sell it. Undeterred by the fact that they did not have access to Chinese water snakes to make the real medicine, they made up their own concoctions consisting in one case of  mineral oil and other non-snake oil ingredients.[7] And they claimed their oils were cures for many ills, to the point where many saw them as panaceas. 

After the government famously sued the maker of one popular brand of copy-cat snake oil – “Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment” – the public realized they had been duped and the term “snake oil” became associated with fraud and quack medicine.

There’s a similar dynamic going on with Evolution in this case. As noted, Darwin made one observation applicable in one particular situation, but now scientists everywhere are calling many things  that go through iterative processes “evolution” – even though they have nothing to do with Darwinian evolutionary processes. Furthermore, they’re calling things “evolution” regardless of whether those iterative processes are a result of design – which would make the process diametrically opposed to evolution. This is the type of fraud that we’re seeing here with software engineers calling designed software the result of “evolution.” What they’re doing is nothing like the evolution that Darwin proposed. But if you think it’s appropriate for designed processes to be called “evolutionary” in the Darwinian sense, please contact me, I’ve got an amazing cure-all oil I think you’ll be interested in.

4. Research dollars and academic standing
Let’s not forget as Ben Stein so clearly demonstrated in Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed, that in the secular world, the discussion is over. They believe evolution to be fact and will punish you if you support or promote any other theory – particularly intelligent design. Thus for researchers in need of research dollars it’s a no brainer.  Your theory will support evolution – regardless of how ridiculous it makes your theory appear.


So what’s the verdict – fundamental misunderstanding or outright fraudulent lie? Once you take into consideration the common imprecision used in most discussions of evolution and combine it with the snake oil effect – the tendency to falsely claim many benefits from the item you’re selling, it seems in this case there’s both a fundamental misunderstanding of what evolution is, and a  strong desire to overstate what evolution is, and can do. 

When it comes to medicine, that type of overstatement is considered fraud. Is fraud limited to representations concerning medicine? Consider the researchers in this case. Are we really to believe that they believe that with all the intelligent design inherent in their process that they seriously believe their software development is as random as Darwinian evolution is required to be? The misdirection in that is obvious. It looks intentional, and it’s done – apparently – with a straight face.  As near as I can tell, those researchers would make good snake oil salesmen.

Duane Caldwell | July 26,  2018 | Printer friendly version


1. “Evolutionary algorithm outperforms deep-learning machines at video games” by Emerging Technology from the arXiv, published on MIT Technology Review site,  July 18, 2018, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611568/evolutionary-algorithm-outperforms-deep-learning-machines-at-video-games/

2. Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is, New York: Basic Books, 2001, p.121

3. “Evolutionary algorithm outperforms…”

4. “Evolutionary algorithm outperforms…”

5. Elizabeth Kelly ref. from. America Fact Vs. Fiction episode “Bonus Round Science or Sci-Fi”, AHC documentary, 2017

6. Eleanor Herman, ref. from. America Fact Vs. Fiction episode “Bonus Round Science or Sci-Fi”, AHC documentary, 2017

7. One famous example – “Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Linimentwas found to consist primarily of “mineral oil, a fatty oil believed to be beef fat, red pepper and turpentine.” It contained no snake oil, and so the US Government sued him for false representation. The government won, and from that time on, the term “snake oil” referred to any quack medicine.

Quote – ref from: Lakshmi Gandhi, “A History Of ‘Snake Oil Salesmen'”, NPR, 8/26/2013, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/26/215761377/a-history-of-snake-oil-salesmen

Law suit – ref from: Eleanor Herman, America Fact Vs. Fiction


All images used by permission

“Digital Snake Oil” Composite by Duane Caldwell featuring
Abstract defocus digital technology background © monsitj | fotolia – used by permission;
and Clarke Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment By Clark Stanley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Richard Baggarley
5 years ago

Thank you for the very useful article. There are a few corrections I’d like to suggest.

Ernst’s last name is Mayr not Mahr. (His name is correct spelled in your list of “Referenced Commentators”. His cited book is “What Evolution Is” not “What Is Evolution”.

I’ve just discovered your site and am very grateful for the wealth of solid information it provides.

Kind regards,
Richard Baggarley