Spore: new game allows players to ‘evolve’ creatures; should creationists be concerned?


Photo www.sxc.hu creation out of nothing

Spore, a new game created by Sims designer Will Wright, allows players to create their own microbial creatures, and then guide them through various levels of development and civilization. This cartoonish game has attracted the attention of the ardently pro-evolution Scientific American and National Geographic Channel (the latter aired a documentary about the game on 9 September), who discuss how this game interacts with creation/evolution issues. Spore begins with a meteorite crashing into a planet, filling its oceans with microbial life. Naturally, this overlooks the problems with chemical evolution of the first life, as well as recent experimental evidence that any germs would be fried upon entry into the earth’s atmosphere. Players modify a microscopic creature in the creature creator and guide it through several life stages. Gradually the creature grows and moves from sea to land and gains new structures to help it better survive and face new challenges. These structures are unlocked as the creature preys on other creatures. Eventually the creatures will take over their world and move to conquer other worlds which are populated by other player-created creatures.

A ‘philosophy toy’

Many might comment, ‘But it’s just a game, right? No one takes the game seriously as an explanation how life develops in the real world, surely!’ In a saner world, that would be the case; however, many regular gamers see this game as a real explanation and even proof of evolution. More importantly, Wright himself sees Spore as more than ‘just a game’: in a video presenting the game, he said ‘The games that I do I really think of more as modern story-toys, and I really kind of want them to be presented in a way to where kids can explore and discover their own principles.’ He cites the SETI program and ‘astrobiology’ as one of his inspirations, and says that it’s meant to be a ‘philosophy toy’ to inspire philosophical questions. He acknowledges that aspects of the game are ‘very Darwinian.’

One also senses a bit of radical environmentalist influence; if the player fills the atmosphere with more carbon dioxide, the ocean levels rise, mimicking a scenario that many environmentalists think is possible with greenhouse gasses on earth. Processes that would take many years, if it happened at all, could be replicated in minutes. ‘It’s like we’re using the game to re-map our intuition’. (See CMI’s views on global warming.)

The video ends with this revealing statement:

‘The reason I make toys like this is because I think if there’s one difference I could possibly make in the world, that I would choose to make, it’s that I would like to somehow give people just a little bit better calibration on long-term thinking, because I think most of the problems that our world is faced [with] right now, is the result of short-term thinking and the fact that it’s so hard for us to think fifty, a hundred, or a thousand years out. And I think by giving kids toys like this and letting them replay dynamics, you know, very long-term dynamics over the short term and getting some sense of what we’re doing now and what it’s going to be like in a hundred years, I think is probably the most effective thing I can be doing, probably, to help the world. That’s why I think toys can change the world.’

Does Spore replicate evolution?

While the game may be ‘very Darwinian’ in the sense that the player’s creature competes against other artificial life forms to grow and survive, there is a lot of ‘intelligent design’ involved in making the creature. The player actively creates the creatures; if the player wants the creature to evolve arms or a tail, for instance, the player adds them on; the creature will not randomly mutate then be fine-tuned by natural selection. Rather, complex structures arise then turn out to be useful. The creatures will not even survive on their own; they require guidance from the player.

A New York Times article on the game compared it to other alleged evolutionary simulations on which CMI has commented (see Genetic algorithms do they show that evolution works? as well as the technical papers, Evaluation of neo-Darwinian Theory using the Avida Platform, by CMI supporter Dr Royal Truman: Part 1 and Part 2 (International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design)).

No computer simulation depicts evolutionary processes realistically because there are constraints on the processes that do not exist in real life. For instance, many simulations make it impossible for the population to go extinct; there are protections in place to make sure that at least some survive. And they certainly don’t have to cope with the real chemical processes that real living organisms have mechanisms to cope with. In Spore, if the player decides to fight an opponent twice the size of his creature and the creature is killed, it does not go extinct, but comes back at the same stage to try again to advance to the next stage. In essence, there is no way to lose!

One of the more curious components of the game from an evolutionary standpoint is how quickly the creature advances. In one stage, the creature is an amoeba floating in a drop of water, and in the next, a fully developed multi-celled creature. But where does the information come from for these changes, e.g. the serial cell differentiation system required for multicellular life?

As has been stated many times by creationists, ‘goo-to-you’ evolution is impossible because it requires huge amounts of new genetic information to be added for new structures, and no mechanism has been observed to generate the encyclopedic information in even the simplest organism. However, such information-increasing changes would have to be so frequent for evolution to occur, yet all we have are a handful of dubious examples like nylonase, the B-cell maturation system and antibiotic resistance (see hyperlinked articles for explanations). Most of the evolutionary ‘proofs’ are actually the opposite: they show information going downhill, or pre-existing information being sorted out then lost through natural selection.

Even evolutionists say that Spore does not depict evolution accurately; the New York Times article noted that the way mutations spread through populations is not accurately depicted, and they criticize the ‘one dimensional march of progress from single-cell life to intelligence’. However, Dr Thomas Near said that if the game persuades students to accept evolution, that would be great, even if it does not communicate the idea accurately. And this is the danger of Spore. It is tempting to think of it as ‘simply a game’, but evolutionists are not above using what they know to be faulty evidence to try to persuade students that evolution is true.

What can we learn from Spore?

Wright’s comments above should make it clear that Spore is not intended to be a ‘neutral’ game; it was created with an evolutionary philosophy behind it, with the goal that children playing the game would discover and accept that philosophy for themselves. As Christians, we should be aware of the influence that even innocent-looking entertainment can have on children. Though Spore is tagged as an ‘educational game’, Christian parents should be aware that what the game aims to teach is an anti-Christian view of the world.

Evolutionists are out to persuade children of the truth of their claims through the school system, movies, and even computer games. Wright realizes that the way to change the culture is to influence the younger generation, who are younger and still figuring out the way they think about the world. Christian parents must be increasingly vigilant to make sure that the messages that their children absorb are consistent with a biblical worldview.

Update: see a response to critics of this article

Published: 21 October 2008