How William A. Dembski brings down Darwinism with the help of TRIZ

Y. B. Karasik
Thought Guiding Systems Corp.,
Ottawa, Canada.


William A. Dembski, a professor at Baylor University, is a partisan of the view that the living creatures are the result of both evolution and design. He believes that there were structural leaps in evolution of species, which cannot be bridged by the Darwinian "slight modifications", and that these leaps are the result of the intervention of some Intelligent Designer (a.k.a God, if you will).

(I also believe in such leaps, provided the notion of "slight modifications" is properly defined. However, I do not jump from here to a conclusion that such leaps are the result of an external intelligent designer intervention. This distinguish me from Dembski & Co.)

The existence of an Intelligent Designer seems to him so obvious (provided leaps exist) that he even does not bother to prove that the first follows from the second. Instead he concentrates on proving that leaps do really exist and that they cannot be bridged.

Probably due to the lack of evidence of leaps in biology itself, he decided to exploit technological evolution. To this end he invented the following syllogism:

He takes the first premise for granted and concentrates on proving the second one only. To this end he resorts to TRIZ or, more preceisely, to his distorted vision of TRIZ.

He writes: " Sudden innovation, convergence to ideality, and extinction are all part of TRIZ's evolutionary scheme... The scheme is non-Darwinian." Is it really so ? (I mean both "sudden innovation etc. are part of TRIZ's scheme" and "the scheme is non-Darwinian".)

Sudden innovation

Firstly, it is not clear what he means by this. He did not specify. If by "sudden innovation" Mr. Dembski means that ideas of innovations come suddenly, by insight, as opposed to "trial-and-error tinkering", then such a vision has nothing to do with TRIZ. It was a pre-TRIZ conception that solutions to creative problems occurs by insight, by some "Aha! experience", as Gestalt psychology calls it. TRIZ, conversely, provided a means of solving creative problems routinely, step-by-step, without any "Aha! experience".

Suppose, however, that by "sudden innovation" he means emergence of novel designs, significantly different from the known prototypes, which cannot be obtained by a sequence of "slight modifications" of the prototypes. Then such "sudden innovation" is nothing else but evolutionary leap which he is looking for. Then evolution of technical systems is really non-Darwinian.

But the problem is that TRIZ does not say that novel designs cannot be obtained from some prototypes by "slight modifications". TRIZ did not investigate this at all. TRIZ only says that by trials-and-errors it is difficult (but not impossible !) to arrive at novel designs. But it does not say that "trials" are synonyms of "slight modifications". Some trials can be very significant modifications. TRIZ does not impose a limitation on the degree of the novelty of a trial. "Trial" and "slight modification" are not synonyms in TRIZ !

Thus, existence of leaps in technological evolution is very questionable too. And TRIZ cannot help here. It never was on the TRIZ agenda to prove or disprove the existence of leaps.

I personally believe that there are unbridgable leaps. But I do not have an example at hand. Can, say, transition from propeller engine to jet engine be such an example ? I do not know. It has to be investigated. Can we somehow step-by-step "slighly" modify propeller engine to eventually convert it into a jet engine ? It is not clear and has to be thought about.

What is clear, however, is that "slight modifications" in this context have nothing to do with inventions of the 1st level. When we slighly modify a system we do not need to preserve its workability. For example, I can slighly modify propeller engine by gradually decreasing the length of propeller to zero. But after such slight modifications, it will stop functioning. Many more additional slight modifications are required to make it to function again, but already as jet engine rather than propeller one. It is not enought to just atrophate propeller (and some other parts). New parts have to emerge and grow up too for the engine to regain workability (albeit on other principles).

Inventions of the 1st level, on the contrary, always preserve the workability of a system. Their purpose is to slighly improve system and not to make it unfunctionable. They are merely a subset of all slight modifications.

Thus, the question raised by Genady Filkovsky in the last month discussion whether technical systems can be advanced by inventions of the 1st level only, should be answered in negative. But whether they can be advanced by slight modifications only (which unlike inventions of the 1st level not necessarily preserve the workability of the systems) is an open question.

Thus, Mr. Dembski was too fast with his belief that TRIZ postulates or has a proof of the existence of the leaps in technological evolution.

Convergence to ideality and extinction

It is hard to understand why Mr. Dembski relates "convergence to ideality" to the non-Darwinian features. The living creatures also converge to ideality. The fittest are more ideal than others. The others die out. The fittest survive. The very formula of ideality (positive effects/cost) indicates that the more ideal is he who does/achieves more for less. The same holds for the fittest. Thus, "convergence to ideality" is a pretty Darwinian feature.

And it is completely unclear why the supposed "extinction" of technical systems is featured by Dembski as a non-Darwinian characteristics. The living creatures extinct too !

On the other hand, TRIZ does not say that technical systems extinct. Conversely, it says that no system extincts completely. At worst, it becomes a part of a new system. So, it is not clear at all what extinction Mr. Dembski is talking about.

By the way, in biology there is a peculiar analog to the above TRIZ principle. It is Haeckel's biogenetic law: ontogenesis is a brief and rapid recapitulation of phylogenesis. In TRIZ the "extinct" becomes a spatial portion of a new system. In biology, the "extinct" becomes a temporary stage of a new system as it grows up. The contemporary technical systems do not grow up. They remain the same from the time of manufacturing to the time of decommissioning. It is a huge disadavntage of technical systems over biological ones. Should they become one day not completed right away but growing over time, a technical analog of Haeckel law can be envisioned.


So, what is left of the phrase "Sudden innovation, convergence to ideality, and extinction are all part of TRIZ's evolutionary scheme" ?

Thus, none of the above features is a part of TRIZ's evolutionary scheme ! Consequently, Mr. Dembski conclusion that "the scheme is non-Darwinian" hangs in the air.