How meta is your design?
Posted by aogFriday, 31 December 2004 at 14:41 TrackBack Ping URL

I’ve been following the latest blogosphere exchange about Intelligent Design. Most of the interesting things have already been written, but I found this quote over at the Volokh Conspiracy a bit off:

One thing that strikes me about Intelligent Design is that it must have been much more intuitively appealing before the failure of socialism. Socialism in the 1920s—1940s was in part based on the idea that the world had become so complex that central planning was necessary to deal with this complexity. Yet Von Mises was arguing just the opposite, that as the world became more elaborate, no one could plan it. ID seems to be based on an assumption that most conservatives reject in the economic sphere—that as the economy gets more elaborate, to work well it must be the product of the intelligent design of a master planner.

This completely misses the point of Intelligent Design, a point that has beaten far past death over at the Brothers Judd. One of the points that came up there was feedback loops. This ties in directly with the quote above because it illustrates the primary error of central planning and Volokh’s misunderstanding of Intelligent Design, which is about different levels of design.

This also ties in with a post I wrote a bit ago about different levels of thinking. When I design systems, feedback loops are important feature. However, I try to not design them explicitly but to structure the system in such a way that these feedback loops emerge as “natural” properties of the system. In the same way, Intelligent Design (or at least the version I’m familiar with) postulates that a Designer doesn’t take a hands on approach to the feedback loops that keep Gaia functioning but took a higher level approach and constructed the laws of reality so that such feedback loops and stability would emerge “naturally”.

Ironically, Volokh’s mistake is exactly the same as the socialists and the co-workers mentioned in the earlier post, that intelligence is required to keep the feedback loops operating. In fact, the more automated the loops are, the better they work. A far better analogy for Volokh to use for Intelligent Design supporters would be capitalism, where the capitalists don’t worry about the precise nature of the economy but instead strive to create a set of laws that enables the spontaneous emergence of a vibrant economy. That’s the essence of “lassiez-faire”, isn’t it? Even Von Mises stressed the need for the rule of law to support the free market and those are in fact designed. This is far more analogous to the claims of Intelligent Design than the central planning theories of socialism.