Gratuitous homage to Darwin? Stephen Forte (in “Software development Darwinism,” March 1, p. 26) is talking about gradual change (improvement) of software tools over time, tools designed by human individual minds and selected by markets. Yet he calls it Darwinism. This is a thoughtless mishmash of evolution-related ideas, and it shows how uninformed and unwarranted is the current acceptance of what is popularly believed to be Darwinism.

The distinction of Darwin’s theory was the sufficiency of undirected processes (random variation and natural selection) to produce the diversity of life from a common ancestor. This article is not about the achievements of undirected processes. Yes, arguably there are “random” processes that contribute to the way software can evolve over time. But Forte is not saying that such processes are sufficient to produce software, or improve it over time, without intelligent input. “Only time and the limits of our own human ingenuity [not the limits of market forces] will tell.”

The fact that natural processes contribute to the change of biological populations over time was well known long before Darwin. By contrast, Darwinism means that natural processes were sufficient to produce the diversity of species, orders, families and phyla.

It would be more accurate to title this article “Software Progress by Intelligent Design.” But Darwin is the zeitgeist; we name operating systems and XML frameworks after him for no logical reason. It wouldn’t matter so much, except that evolution is a controversial topic these days, and the stakes are high. If we’re going to describe things in terms of Darwinism, let’s make sure we’re not muddying the water.

This may be a fine article about ongoing progress in software tools; I don’t mean to denigrate its software development ideas. No doubt the author was using evolution as a colorful metaphor and wasn’t aware of what makes Darwinism Darwinism. But in this day and age, when so much of our culture revolves around Darwinism and battle lines are being drawn, we need to start being aware of what it is we’re defending or attacking.

Lars Huttar