Pharyngula

Denyse O’Leary has a contest: provide a copy of the source code to Dawkins’ Weasel demo. The prizes are your choice of a copy of Dawkins’ new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, or Meyer’s creationist apologetic, Signature in the Cell. It must be like that television game show where you get to choose door #1 or door #2, and one door hides a free vacation in the Bahamas while the other hides a goat.

It’s a very silly contest because a) only Dawkins could win it, and he conjures up Bahamas-quality books all the time, and probably doesn’t want a copy of Stephen Meyer’s rank little goat, and b) the question has already been settled.

The issue that has the creationists so worked up is whether the program used ‘latching’ or not. That is, this is a simple program originally written in BASIC that starts with a random string of characters, and changes them randomly, retaining the randomized versions that most closely match an arbitrary search string (in this case, “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL”). They are hung up on this claim that the program ‘cheated’ by protecting individual letters that matched the search string from further changes.

It doesn’t matter.

If the original program did commit such fudgery (and it clearly didn’t), it wouldn’t affect the state of evolutionary biology at all. It was a simple demonstration program to help teach a basic concept. Move on, people, move on.

This was also a very, very simple program. Anyone who can write even a simple program in any computer language can whip up a version of this program in hours, and if you have any significant programming skills, it will take you a few minutes. Try it with latching, try it without. Even without it, it works just fine in matching the search string in short order.

People have done just that, it really is trivial. Except, unfortunately, for the creationists at the Discovery Institute, who are still obsessed with and baffled by a short, elementary computer program written by a biologist in a short evening. It’s no wonder they’re stumped by a cell!