Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Myth of Engineers at General Motors

For years, General Motors has claimed to use intelligent engineers to design its automobiles. Based on the size of the company and the amazing complexity of many of its vehicles, one would think that massive teams of thousands of engineers are working full time. But ask yourself, do you actually know any engineers that work for GM? I'm an engineer, I know hundreds of engineers, and I've never met a bona fide GM engineer. And I bet you haven't, either. In fact, it's pretty obvious to me that the whole story about engineers and intelligent design at GM is a fairy tale, a pathetic myth to buoy up stock prices and keep the faithful buying from the General Authorities of automobiles.

After studying the teachings of Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists, it's pretty clear that we can explain every feature of a typical GM car as the direct result of natural selection in the market place and survival of the fittest. Cars with air bags, for example, are more likely to result in the survival of the driver, who in turn can tell others about his or her GM car and thus perpetuate that species. Cars with headlights that work are more likely to survive (both vehicle and driver) when driving in the night. Cars with air conditioning provide a more pleasant environment for drivers that will make them and their passengers and friends more willing to purchase GM in the future. It all makes sense: all these features on automobiles provide survival advantages that ultimately result in the propagation of more vehicles from GM. That's the mechanism that explains everything - no "intelligent design" needed.

Anyone who has studied manufacturing knows that there is tremendous variation in the natural scope of production. Companies that use actual engineers spend much of their time trying to fight natural variability, trying to impose meticulous process control to avoid mutations in the reproduction of a product. But I think General Motors embraces variability, allowing the mutations that naturally occur during production to guide the evolution of their product portfolio. The mutations that sell best are naturally selected for further production, while the real losers (e.g., a car with three wheels instead of four, or those missing a gas tank) are quickly eliminated because they don't sell or at least don't make it out of the parking lot.

So folks, all you really need to know about automobile manufacturing and the evolution of the modern luxury car is that every feature that looks like it was brilliantly "designed" can actually be explained away by recognizing that it provides an advantage through natural selection, an advantage that leads to more sales of that species or of other GM cars with that feature. No engineers needed. No intelligent design. And that's why the story of intelligent engineers at General Motors, however comforting, however good for Wall Street, however helpful for maintaining GM's hegemony in the world of automobiles, is just a fairy tale.

Let me tell you, I used to believe in GM engineers. But during my years as a student of chemical engineering, I can honestly say that I never met a GM engineer. GM never showed up at BYU to recruit any of us. That should have been a clue, but I still believed the myth my parents taught me. All those cool features - must be an engineer behind it all! But once I began to think for myself, I searched and searched, but it was all in vain. I walked the engineering departments at my work to see if anybody there was a GM engineer. Nobody! I walked through my Wisconsin neighborhood, asking family after family if any GM engineers live there. Nothing. I got out my telescope and scanned the heavens looking for GM engineers. Nothing. I sent e-mail to George Bush asking if he had any GM engineers on his staff. No answer (apart from a request for campaign donations). I rented dozens of Jackie Chan videos and studied them in detail to see if I could find even the slightest proof that GM engineers might exist. I picked up a few good moves, but not one shred of evidence to convince any thinking person that GM has ever hired a single engineer. And thus, I can tell you with absolute certainty: they don't exist. It's all a myth.

36 comments:

Don Bromley said...

Interesting analogy!

If you're interested, I'd love to get your comments on Intelligent Design/Evolution and Trinitarianism on my blog at:

http://socratic-club.blogspot.com/

I'm guessing that most of the folks reading it are Evangelical Christians, but I also have a few Catholics and atheists.

Don

Anonymous said...

What is the analogy? GM Engineers are in similitude Intelligent design.

Anonymous said...

You are right, Jeff. GM designs are way to simple too have evolved.

Mike Parker said...

From my experience observing the horrid design of GM cars (think Aztek), their lousy transmissions, and chronic poor reliability, I must say that I have to agree with you, Jeff: There are no engineers at GM.

Anonymous said...

"bonified"???

Mormanity said...

Bona fide. Sorry - fixed it.

ad said...

Interesting, but not what I'm looking for in a blog called Mormanity. I know this is your deal and you can do whatever you want, but I'd perfer to see posts related to your topic.

Anonymous said...

I think that the GM engineer blog is related to Mormanity.

However----The "Pope of Automobiles"----Come on Jeff. How would you like it if some of our good Catholic friends called a brand of socks the "Thomas Monson of socks"?

Anonymous said...

What amazingly idiotic analogy. Congratulations! You have proven that "Intelligent Design" doesn't apply to blogs!

Anonymous said...

Visit GM. I will arrange an interview for you with the engineers.

You, in turn, arrange an interview for me with god.

Dubaiidk

Mormanity said...

To the offended anonymous one who was upset that I used the term "Pope" as a mataphor for a well known world religious leader, I've followed your advice by changing that term to "General Authorities" to point to an LDS establishment. Didn't realize I was treading on such sensitive territory.

To the offended anonymous one who said "amazingly idiotic analogy," well, I'm flattered that Mr. Dawkins would drop by, albeit anonymously, and share some of his incisive wit and logic with us. But you left out the part about religion being the source of all evil in the world.

Seriously, the logic that I'm spoofing has been spewed thousands of times from rabid atheists dressed in the robes of science. The fact that a survival advantage can be identified in a feature is taken as the "obvious" explanation for its origins. No design needed. In other words, "As Professor Arthur Cain of Liverpool University used to say, an animal is the way it is because it needs to be."

I don't agree with some of the premises of the school of thought now called "Intelligent Design," but I strongly disagree with the theory that the majesty of this universe and of life itself can be explained in terms of random chance events. The balance of the parameters that define the properties of the cosmos is so incredibly perfect to allow stars and carbon bonds and everything else we need, that it' silly to suggest no intelligence was involved.

As for the anonymous one who wants an interview with God, I'm game. There are two primary options: (1) an interview in the near future at the location of your choice, requiring humble seeking of God in prayer (a good path is stufy of His word in the Book of Mormon and Bible, followed by sincere prayer) - though in the Encounter, you probably won't be physically seeing Him, and (2) actually seeing God at a later date, though this later date is the Day of Judgment, for which it is best to prepare by pursuing option 1 first. There are a couple other options, including witnessing the Second Coming, but the bottom line is that one should seek God first and appreciate the powerful evidences that He has already given rather than waiting for Him to show up and dish out far more evidence that you are going to want at that time.

So, when do the GM engineers show up at my door?

Charles said...

I got a good chuckle that anonymous was offering to introduce you to the engineers. If Jeff were to show up at GM headquarters, I hope the receptionist knows who anonymous is and that there is an outstanding offer on the table.

But Jeff, how do we know GM is the right automanufacturer? Certainly Toyota, Dodge or any of the other numerous competitors must be have some degree of the truth in them as well. Can't I just pick what I like. What if I want a Toyota hybrid with a Dodge Hemi?

Do I really have to pick one over the other?

Bookslinger said...

If a GM engineer shows up at my door within the next 24 hours (I'm going to be generous timewise), I'll buy a GM car the next time.

Daniel Peterson said...

Good analogy, and right on target.

Those who don't get the analogy, I suspect, haven't been reading the arguments of some of the more dogmatic ideologues among the naturalistic evolutionary crowd.

Jason White said...

Visit GM. I will arrange an interview for you with the engineers.

You, in turn, arrange an interview for me with god.


No need to arrange an interview with God ... in fact, the arranging part kind of spoils it. You have to be willing to approach (commonly involves kneeling, but it's not necessary) and speak up yourself.

ed said...

"I strongly disagree with the theory that the majesty of this universe and of life itself can be explained in terms of random chance events."

You may be right, but remember that lots of things that once couldn't be explained now can be explained through simple, natural law. You should show a little humility when pointing to your "God of the gaps," bacause history shows that the gaps have a way of getting filled in.

As far as your GM analogy for organic evolution, it's pretty weak. What do you make of the compelling evidence that seems to indicate evolution, not design? For example, see this:

http://mormonevolution.blogspot.com/2005/05/amylase-and-power-of-molecular-biology.html

Daniel Peterson said...

It's not at all obvious to me that evolution is fundamentally incompatible with at least some limited degree of intelligent design.

In other words, this doesn't seem to be an either/or.

The question is whether random chance accounts for absolutely everything, not whether random variation and natural selection are wholly false.

The question will have to be settled by research and study, of course, and there will be disagreement on the relative proportions of design and randomness (from 0% to 100% on either side), but the issue should at least be properly stated in the first place.

will said...

Jeff, you've highlighted a similarity between biological organisms and cars, namely that both have features that facilitate their survival in their respective environments. Now you might want to ask yourself what differences exist, and whether any of those differences might invalidate your point.

will said...

Daniel, ID, like atheism, is an ambiguous term. We could break it up into weak ID, the faith-based claim that God had some involvement in evolution, and strong ID, the claim that evolution without God is a scientific or logical impossibility.

Mormanity said...

I have no problem with organic evolution playing an important role in the world, and I do believe the evidence is pretty clear that the earth is old. But I don't think any of us would be able to have this conversation if there had not been a marvelous Creator and Master Engineer/Artist behind the scenes, at least guiding critical parts of the process.

Charles said...

The Master Creator, Editor, Artist, Engineer, Whatever-ya-wanna-call Him is the central issue.

I often think of it as a huge (possibly nigh infinite) gyroscope. Millions of cogs, gears, pulleys and other mechanical forces working against each other to facilitate spin. Almost like a large dominoe set.

In my view someone (God) had to set up those rules. Then that Someone set the gyroscope spinning. The world works because those things were set in motion.

Daniel Peterson said...

I'm well aware that "intelligent design" is a broad term. That's why I object when it is simplistically collapsed into a synonym for "creationism."

Personally, I think the case for intelligent design in at least a minimal sense is quite strong.

Bookslinger said...

Abraham 3:14 ...and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

I think that illustrates that God did not create the earth "ex-nihilo", out of nothingness. The materials in some form, raw or recycled, pre-existed the creation/organization of what we know as the Earth today.

I've often wondered the possibility that some things, perhaps fossils, are remnants of _previous_ creations, and are not post-Adamic.

When Genesis says that the Earth was "void and without form", void of what? Without the form of what?

When Genesis says "in the beginning", in the beginning of what? What time period or thing is Genesis the beginning of? Could Genesis be the beginning of _our_ time period, our little segment of time out of the eternities, merely _our_ history, and still not be the absolute beginning of the creations in which this planet and the molecules thereof were used?

Joseph taught that Heavenly Father became a god like all other gods before him, and that we, His spirit children, have the potential to become gods in the same manner that Heavenly Father did. If we create a mind-experiment and extend that pattern, and I do not mean to be irreverent here, do we have a Heavenly Grandfather, and Heavenly Aunts and Uncles?

And if so, do they have their own galaxies, or if this whole Universe belongs to our Heavenly Father, do those Heavenly Others have their own Universes? I don't see mention of Heavenly Others in the scriptures, but having been taught at least a small portion of the pattern of eternal progression the mind extrapolates the pattern to, literally, cosmic proportions.

And perhaps it is echoed in hymn #284, If You Could Hie to Kolob, about there being no end or beginning to Godhood, matter, space, spirit, etc.

Such extrapolations might then encompass many cosmological theories of Stephen Hawking and others.

Such thoughts give me a glimpse of the thought that "time is a local phenomenom". Words such as eternity and forever, and worlds without end can then encompass both our theology and cosmology.

Was it Hawking who theorized a multi-verse of universes?

It does give possibilities to the "solemnities of eternity."

Walter said...

"As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling."

http://www.theonion.com/news/index.php?issue=4133&n=2

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Lord sanctify his work on the 6th day before he rested?

And then there was a fall?

So maybe the creation fell from its sanctified state, and was nearly perfectly telestial beforehand.

How about this?

Okay, evolution, random mutation, natural selection, etc. etc. occurs without 'intelligent design'

Possible? Sure.

but... How do you explain how everything ended up where it did?

That is, geography, climate, and the other creatures in a certain place may affect certain creatures, and create new creatures.

But look at the whole tapestry.
Why wasn't there a large island (britain) convenient to form a powerful seafaring nation adjacent to a continent (europe) that surrounded an insulated sea that provided for a thriving trading center for civilization's birth - why wasn't all this - location in the south with the large Africa in the north?

That is, why didn't England colonize the tropical and inhabitant-filled south-central americas?

That is, it sure was convenient that the politically most liberal country in the world at the time (obvious due to natural, random circumstances) forced to initially colonize the most inhabitant free and climatically moderate part of the American continent?

Why was it that just about half of that colonial group was forced to rely on industry and was more 'puritanical' and the other half was climatically fair enough to support a slave-based economy and had inhabitants more accepting of this practice?

That is, sure history can be 'explained' by looking at 'natural features' but why did it all turn out the way it did?

An invisible hand?

But shucks for looking at the big picture, details are so much more convenient for making arguments.

Floyd the Wonderdog said...

I have seen a GM engineer. If Dubaiidk does not believe me does that mean that the GM engineer does not exist?

Perhaps some sign from the GM engineer would help you believe? Some great miracle worked by the GM engineer to prove that he exists. Perhaps if the GM engineer were to restore your muffler to it's OEM condition?

Anonymous said...

Floyd, You see that engineer with your special spiritual eyes? or just your regular old eyes like the rest of us have?
Cause your spiritual eyes don't really count in the real world. I mean, you can't pray and pray and then pray real hard some more and then say, "Oh, I closed my eyes and then I saw him with my spiritual eyes."
Kinda hurts your credibility if you say it that way.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, how does one reconcile Intelligent Design theory (or whatever percentage of it that you believe in) with Mormon doctrine?

According to Mormon doctrine, God is a car. Sure, He is a car that is perfect with a white finish so shiny that it glows brighter than the sun, guaranteed to run perfectly forever. If ever there was a car that must have had a designer, it is certainly God.

Who is the engineer that designed the Cadillac that Mormons worship?

Mormanity said...

Don't you mean Toyota? Toyotas run forever, not Cadillacs.

"I am that I am" - the Self-Existent One - that is God. Christ, though Begotten Son who gives glory to the Father, is One with God and is YHWH. He is the Father and the Son, as we read in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 15, for example).

There are some deep concepts involved, but no fundamental problem. We worship the Creator, not the creation.

Anonymous said...

So you believe that God is self-existent and thus fundamentally different than his creation, i.e. you and me? Joseph Smith said that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.” If God was once as we are now, who is the engineer that designed him? Lorenzo Snow said, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”

Classical Mormon thought is that God once lived on an earth like this one where he had a father-God of his own, who had his own father-God, etc. According to this school of thought, God wasn’t an engineer who designed Adam, rather he was a father who begot Adam. They take Moses 6:22 literally: Adam was the son of God, not one of God’s engineering marvels. And thus it was with the rest of creation—every chicken was once an egg and every egg was laid by a chicken. The first egg that was hatched on Earth was laid by a chicken that was hatched on another planet. There was never an engineer who designed chicken and eggs, and they didn’t evolve. Rather, they’ve always existed and that is the ultimate nature of reality.

Believe it or not, that is what I was taught in seminary. But it appears you reject all of that and see God as the unique uncreated architect who designed the rest of the universe?

Mormanity said...

Deut. 10:17 calls him Lord of Lords and God of Gods. See also 1 Cor. 8:5-8.

As we see from the example of Christ, it is possible to have been born and yet be God and Creator. Christ created the earth (Heb. 1:1-3, Col. 1). Would it offend you if Christ were truly like the Father and did no other thing but what He saw the Father do (John 5:19)?

There are some deep issues here - what you say you were taught does not do justice to the depth of LDS theology on this matter, but it is a matter where we know far too little to be offended over the details that we don't understand.

Anonymous said...

Q: Would it offend you if Christ were truly like the Father and did no other thing but what He saw the Father do (John 5:19)?

A: Of course it wouldn’t offend me.

Q: it is a matter where we know far too little to be offended over the details that we don't understand.

A: I’m not offended. I’m just saying that if God was once a man, he didn’t DESIGN himself (or are you suggesting that he did design himself?).

If the technical marvels of a human being necessitate the existence of an ENGINEER to DESIGN such a splendid thing, and if God is an exalted man who was once like us, then who designed God? I’m not saying God didn’t CREATE us. I’m saying that he created us according to the blueprints after which He Himself was fashioned.

So where did the original blueprint come from? Who was it that DESIGNED God?

Anonymous said...

Wait - why couldn't Christ be the Creator of the earth, as Heb. 1:1-3 and others passages indicate? If he could create the earth, why couldn't His father be the Creator of much more? God is one: this is an important concept to understand. God is a God of gods and Lord of lords (Deut. 10:17).

Adam Smith said...

I am a GM engineer, and I know lots of them. If you honestly think that GM is gonna have an engineer on payroll siting in every town is just stupid and obviously your comment is not well thought out. GM has 3 main design centers in different places in the world, not 10,000 guys with an office in every little podunck town in the mid-US. And while i will admit that GM has had there good products and their bad, if you know anything about vehicle dependability studies, you would know that Buick, of all companies, tied Lexus, thats right, Lexus for the TOP SPOT in 3-year dependability rankings. If you prefer to be an ignorant consumer and not do your homework, thats fine by me, but i think i will open my eyes, see that GM is as good as anyone, and buy from a company that doesn't send 90% of their and jobs profits OUT of our country.

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mormanity said...

OK, someone claiming to be an actual GM engineer has spoken. But the only evidence I have of his/her existence are a few pixels on my screen depicting a pattern that appears to be words to me. Hardly the kind of scientific evidence we need to prove that an engineer exists.

I still say the whole GM intelligent engineer concept is a marketing myth, designed to make us feel good and be loyal subjects to a powerful international corporation. Want to know the truth? Follow the money! And send it here when you find it so I can expose more major myths.