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In the Light of Evolution Volume III: Two Centuries of Darwin
FIGURE 17.1 An expression of incredulity about Darwin’s inversion, from an anonymous creationist propaganda pamphlet, ca. 1970.
by this laborious and unintelligent route. They have been searching for a “skyhook,” something that floats high in Design Space, unsupported by ancestors, the direct result of a special act of intelligent creation. And time and again, these skeptics have discovered not a miraculous skyhook but a wonderful “crane,” a nonmiraculous innovation in Design Space that enables ever more efficient exploration of the possibilities of design, ever more powerful lifting in Design Space. Endosymbiosis is a crane; sex is a crane; language and culture are cranes. (For instance, without their addition to the arsenal of R&D tools available to evolution, we couldn’t have glow-in-the-dark tobacco plants with firefly genes in them. These are not miraculous. They are just as clearly fruits of the tree of life as spider webs and beaver dams, but the probability of their emerging without the helping hand of Homo sapiens and our cultural tools is nil.)
As we learn more and more about the nano-machinery of life that makes all this possible, we can appreciate a second strange inversion of reasoning, provided by another brilliant Englishman: Alan Turing. Here is Turing’s strange inversion, put in language borrowed from MacKenzie:
IN ORDER TO BE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL COMPUTING MACHINE, IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW WHAT ARITHMETIC IS.
Before Turing there were computers, by the hundreds, working on scientific and engineering calculations. Many of them were women, and many had degrees in mathematics. They were human beings who knew what arithmetic was, but Turing had a great insight: they didn’t need to know this! As he noted, “The behavior of the computer at any moment is determined by the symbols which he is observing, and his ‘state of mind’ at that moment …” (Turing, 1936). Turing showed that it was possible to design machines—Turing machines or their equivalents—that were Absolutely