Use Conway’s Game of Life for a Smart Argument with Creationists

January 27, 2014

In a recent interview, Neil DeGrasse Tyson said he thought Republicans will embrace teaching actual science in the classroom, because it’s in the country’s economic interest. He’s such an optimist – isn’t that charming?

Akasaka Phoenix Building - Nov. 13, 2013

Akasaka Phoenix Building – Nov. 13, 2013
I never noticed the “deko-boko” pattern in real life. It’s only apparent in photos. (Enlarge)

But seriously now, I have a suggestion for creationists about how to argue successfully. Below I give two “ridiculous” arguments that creationists should stop using, followed by two “smart” arguments that creationists should focus on. And in order to explain these arguments, I refer to this cool mathematical system called Conway’s Game of Life.

Are you ready?

Let’s say there’s a system, like a clockwork or something that is wound up and then slowly starts to unwind. As the system unwinds, various interesting things happen, like pages opening in a pop-up book.

Look at Conway’s Game of Life. Here we see a system that consists of only a few simple things:

  1. A grid defining “space”
  2. An initial set of cells, each of which is either filled or empty
  3. A few rules determining how the cells will change in time

Materialist scientists think the following:

  1. Our universe is like Conway’s Game of Life.
  2. Once it is set in motion, the Game of Life proceeds mechanically and automatically, except there is a certain amount of randomness at the quantum scale.
  3. No god set up this Game of Life.

Creationists often look ridiculous when they use certain arguments that contradict basic common sense. Here are two arguments I think creationists should not try to use:

  1. A creationist cannot dispute that our universe is like a Conway’s Game of Life. That would be like denying the existence of order and regularity in our universe.
  2. Also, the creationist cannot dispute that interesting and complex patterns arise from the very arrangement of the Game of Life itself, without intervention by a God who breaks the rules. After all, we can clearly see it happening in those computer animations of Conway’s Game of Life.

What arguments does this leave for the creationist? I think the smart creationist must argue along one of these lines:

  1. God originally set up our universe like a Conway’s Game of Life. Thus, any interesting pattern that arises will do so because of God’s original conception for the universe.
  2. Even though some interesting patterns arise from the very nature of the universe, other interesting patterns also arise which are caused by God’s rule-breaking intervention.

Here’s my point: If creationists stopped using the two “ridiculous” arguments above and restricted themselves to the two “smart” arguments, there would be a lot less controversy.

Creationists could go ahead and learn about modern evolutionary biology, since that’s simply the study of how Conway’s Game of Life produces complex patterns by its very nature. The creationists could just mention, as a kind of footnote, that they also believe in one of the two “smart” arguments, and this footnote would not have to disrupt the study of modern biology.

Here is some good news for you creationists out there: No scientist can disprove your “smart” arguments! The scientists might balk and complain that those arguments “seem unlikely,” but they won’t be able to disprove them. So you’re safe.

Here is the bad news for you stupid creationists out there: You’ll never get anywhere with those “ridiculous” arguments. Normal people will just laugh at you, because you’re denying things that are obviously happening right in front of your nose.

Another thing: You can’t quibble about the fine details of the analogy. Of course our real-life universe is not precisely like Conway’s Game of Life. If you make that kind of argument, you’re missing the point.

Certainly it’s fun to discuss variations on Conway’s Game of Life, but that doesn’t have much bearing on the argument I’m making here.

Personally, I think it would be cool to tweak John Conway’s rules to take into account the concepts of energy flow and entropy in the universe. But that would make things really complicated, and simplicity was one of Conway’s key goals. Oh well.