Ran across a quote that sounded interesting and lets me geek out a bit; thought I would share.
“Contrary to the ultra-Darwinist view, reverse engineering doesn’t always work in biology for the simple reason that God is not an engineer; God’s a hacker.”Francis Crick, Co-discoverer of DNS
I think the original reference is the chaotic mutations and random genetic transformations of organic beings make for a big difficulty to start with a frog and end up with complete fish genetics. However, it becomes exponentially more difficult with rapidly growing and complex organs like the human brain as the brain changes daily from utero to death. Reverse-engineering the human brain and creating a robotic or synthetic one that replicates human brains (the Singularity) and passes scrutiny as a human being (the Turing Test) is nigh impossible.* In this sense, because of the human brain, we may never become God-like creators of our own image.
However, there’s a question of theology in the quote as well. As mentioned at a Slashdot discussion on the above quote, if God is a hacker then we would expect the “code” to be clean and foolproof. After all, hacking into a system written by someone smarter than you is exponentially more difficult; and if God was the engineer, then finite humans are sunk trying to completely understand God’s creation.
However, our DNA is practically a binary system, with four pairs as the basis for its complexity. Our own DNA has crap DNA strands that mean nothing other than evolutionary history (the Appendix, anyone?). Damaged brains teach us that brains rewrite themselves on the fly, not from some systematic reboot. So we don’t have a highly complex brain that is perfectly written with neat engineer code; rather, we have a haphazard hacked system patched on the fly that can fail at any moment and it is a wonder that all the neurons continue firing.
If God is a hacker, then there’s hope for humanity. There’s hope because all of us are damaged systems just trying to make sense of the world around us, one day at a time. We will never find a complete reboot and will never find a clean slate; we will never find a religious system that we completely agree with or that is faultless; we will never be completely born again (wiped?) and will have to deal with our human histories and failings. But God is a hacker and can patch us, update us, bring us to new heights unimaginable if we allow God in past our firewalls and our protections. Indeed, God can offer us salvation beyond our own construction, can insert new code for life eternal.
If God is a hacker, then hack us into new creations with fresh stirrings of our radical human potential and incredible dependency on God for all things new.**
* Yes, I just watched Battlestar Galactica for the first time. So Cylons that look like humans until you burn their bodies is a neat commentary on what life would be like post-Singularity.
**Ugh, sometimes I hate it that ridiculous nerdy analogies like that flow freely from my brain, and yet I’m serving the Church in rural farmland. Ah well, that’s why I blog, eh?
::EDIT:: And the followup quote by a fellow researcher expounds on the above quote.
“My colleague Francis Crick used to say that God is a hacker, not an engineer,” Dr. Ramachandran said. “You can do reverse engineering, but you can’t do reverse hacking.”V.S. Ramachandran, “phantom limb syndrome” researcher