Louisville programmer collaborates with controversial scientist Richard Dawkins

This article original appeared on Insider Louisville, read the full article here.


by David Serchuk

Louisville computer programmer Alan Canon has partnered with controversial scientist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins to resuscitate a suite of long-dormant computer programs Dawkins wrote decades ago. Canon’s goal is for these programs to help teach how evolution and genetic selection work, and to fight back against the evolution deniers dotting the American landscape.

The programs, called “The Blind Watchmaker,” illustrate how genetic mutations and variances create new varieties of life.

Canon tells IL he is working with Dawkins because even now, decades after the Scopes Monkey Trial, the theory of evolution remains under attack from creationists. He wants to help Dawkins — his intellectual hero — further the cause of rational, science-based thinking. For him, it means helping Dawkins revive long-dormant computer programs that illustrate how evolution and genetic selection work.

“We need every tool we can muster in the arsenal of demonstrating the truth of these ideas,” Canon said. “Evolution explains why we’re here … evolution has produced human brains capable of understanding how they came to be. There’s poetry there.”

The programs, in a nutshell, demonstrate the principles of evolution, including: heredity, mutation, and artificial selection. They allow users to essentially “breed” different kinds of life-forms, to illustrate how offspring, over time, differ from their ancestors. In short, the programs show a souped-up version of evolution.


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35 COMMENTS

  1. I wonder whether Francis Collins would ever be called “a controversial scientist”. Anyway, I look forward to these programs being available to us all.

  2. @link -Richard Dawkins’ original “Watchmaker Suite” of four programs demonstrating princples of evolutionary biology: Arthromorphs, Biomorphs (Monochrome and Colour) and Snailmaker. Packages allow the original Classic Mac code run under emulation on Windows, Intel OS X, and Linux.

    Ongoing development includes patching the source for compatibility with later versions of the Macintosh interfaces, including PowerPC, Carbon, and Cocoa. Pascal will remain the implementation language, as the source passes from Think Pascal 4.0 through CodeWarrior to Free Pascal. Backwards source compatibility will be maintained at all stages of the project, through a process of incremental change, in keeping with the “Mount Improbable” theme at the heart of these programs, Richard Dawkins’ original software metaphors.

    I have only seen the line drawing versions of these in “Climbing Mount Improbable”, (P. 188, 190, 191,196, 207), and comparisons the comparisons there with geometrically symmetrical actual organisms. The animations should provide excellent educational material for teaching evolutionary biology.

  3. I remember Alan Canon – he posted a few comments on this site years ago, super cool guy.

    Good to see he is associated with RDF, albeit behind the scenes. Rock on.

  4. I can’t wait to see the result! And the fact that the programs will be Free Software really fills me with joy. Can’t wait for the tarball!

  5. Why is Richard “controversial”? Just because he simply states the fact that there’s no evidence for the existence of gods?

  6. Canon tells IL he is working with Dawkins because even now, decades after the Scopes Monkey Trial, the theory of evolution remains under attack from creationists.

    Helping to thwart that ever present condition in America of one step forward and two steps back. Fantastic that Mr. Cannon is working to strengthen the rudder on the ship of reason. Full steam ahead to the shores of sanity I say. Thank you Alan Canon for being onboard.

  7. Damn, that’s controversial. I wish my workplace or school or any organization in my immediate vicinity would get that controversial. I could use some controversy.

  8. This is a great idea. I enjoyed writing a version of the biomorph program years ago. I remember thinking at the time that it would also be fun to write one that would ‘evolve’ a series of notes i.e. the morph would be a list of notes with other traits as well.

  9. Richard Dawkins is a hero!. I have watched the blind watch maker videos. Cant wait to get my hands on these programs.

  10. I am still hoping for modern implementations of the Biomorphs app. I want them on my Mac and my iPad for demonstrations. There used to be quite a few around for mac, but not recently.

  11. I hate those “Shocking story here! Read immediately!” type headlines that have little or nothing to do with the substance of the story. Crap journalism.

  12. Its from the Louisville newspaper’s own headline. American newspapers will always describe anyone who supports evolution as “controversial” to pander to their readers, most of whom don’t understand it

  13. That´s wonderfull for young people to learn, their minds are wonderfull to learn. (to me, not so wonderfull, I don´t like games as I am growing old, I am very impacient now actually).

  14. controversial scientist

    From OP – “Strident Atheist – online provocation – alienates people of faith“, blurred lines.

  15. Maybe we should all take to adding the prefix “controversial” to our names or professions. I am now designating myself “the controversial poster Philoctetes”.

    All you need to apply this honorific is the absence of superstition in your life.

  16. Apart from the use of the world ‘controversial’…if you want an example of the power of the computer program they’re talking about read ‘The Blind Watchmaker’. There are several examples of wonderful biomorphs there that are coupled with a brilliant explanation of evolution at work in nature.

    I am glad to see that they want to use those programs again. Are very useful and simple tools.

  17. Woah! I Googled “Conway’s Game of Life” (I know all about it, but I thought I would look anyway) and an active “Game” popped up beside my search results, right there! Google geeks are awesome!

  18. I…am…SOOOOO….f’ing jealous!!!! I would have LOVED to do this for RD. I had no idea he was interested in doing it.

  19. Worth noting that I’m just a low swabby waving a greeting from the deck Alan, a self-indentured crew member on the ship of reason. Just wanted to clear that up. I will reiterate it once more though, it’s very cool what your doing.

  20. I became a Gruniad reader in about 1965. A couple of years later I was hooked for what I thought was life by its coverage of Watergate. Sports coverage was brilliant and for news an politics it was the only non-right wing establishment show in town.

    Over the last year or so it has been simply awful scared of its own politically correct shadow. I posted on its comments regularly, but when I had a post suggesting that an article was only published to provide a contracted contributor with a fee rejected in three versions of progressively vaguer and courteous language, I decided to delete the Grauniad from my bookmarks. I’ve been away for a month now, and the only problem is that viable alternatives are worse. The Independent is not so sanctimonious but their site is the slave to pop-ups which no amount of killer software can completely eliminate and their journalism is typically lazy. Let’s face it the old world of Fleet Street is dead, leaving us with the wider vista of Web news and its challenge to establish its veracity.

  21. The MacBook in the photo must be part of the research. It’s a distant relative of my current much more evolved MacBook. Many MacBook of that era were ordained with tattoos to accentuate the glowing image of a fruit on their cases. This one may have been influenced by a secular worldview which prevented it from accepting such labeling. Although secular markings were not uncommon (ex: Mathematical Formulae and Atoms with electrons in orbit).

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