Avida in Discover Magazine

Our congratulations go out to Carl Zimmer. Discover magazine published one of Carl Zimmer’s articles as a cover article. The article was titled “Testing Darwin” (Published in Discover Magazine Feb 2005)

Zimmer explores the relevance of work on Avida to evolution

One thing the digital organisms do particularly well is evolve.” Avida is not a simulation of evolution; it is an instance of it,” Pennock says. “All the core parts of the Darwinian process are there. These things replicate, they mutate, they are competing with one another. The very process of natural selection is happening there. If that’s central to the definition of life, then these things count.”

The work based on Avida is not well received by creationists who argue that Darwinian theory cannot explain the complexity of life. Although others have already shown that complexity and information in the genome can increase under the processes of variation and selection., Avida has recently been used to address the concept of irreducible complexity. (Note: Mark Perakh has addressed some the ever changing definitions of irreducible complexity in ID’s irreducible inconsistency revisited)

When the Avida team published their first results on the evolution of complexity in 2003, they were inundated with e-mails from creationists. Their work hit a nerve in the antievolution movement and hit it hard. A popular claim of creationists is that life shows signs of intelligent design, especially in its complexity. They argue that complex things could never have evolved, because they don’t work unless all their parts are in place. But as Adami points out, if creationists were right, then Avida wouldn’t be able to produce complex digital organisms. A digital organism may use 19 or more simple routines in order to carry out the equals operation. If you delete any of the routines, it can’t do the job. “What we show is that there are irreducibly complex things and they can evolve,” says Adami.

The Avida team makes their software freely available on the Internet, and creationists have downloaded it over and over again in hopes of finding a fatal flaw. While they’ve uncovered a few minor glitches, Ofria says they have yet to find anything serious. “We literally have an army of thousands of unpaid bug testers,” he says. “What more could you want?”