Monday, 25 June 2007

Intelligent design

I stumbled across Jay Flowers blog today and found his mix of eastern philosophy and Agile development very interesting. Eastern philosophy appears to be seeping into a lot of western science (in particular psychology and to some extent quantum physics) and it's nice to see these ideas placed to argue the benefits of Agile.

However I don't want to write so much about the intricacies of eastern philosophy (Jay's blog does a good job already) instead I'd like to expand on a particular post of Jay's and specifically on the quote he provided from Alan Watts.

Religion is embedded deep into our cultures: whether you are atheist, agnostic, fundamentalist, conservative or liberal believer our society and culture has been influenced more by religion than it has by science; legal systems, for example, are based on religion: the ten commandments for Christians, Sharia law for Muslims, etc.. After reading Jay's blog it occurred to me how much our approach to development is also influenced by religious culture and to demonstrate this I am going to look to the creationist vs evolution debate.

I don't want to actually get knee-deep into the creationist vs evolution debate (I am not Richard Dawkins), instead I wish to concentrate on the affect of creationism on our western culture. Though many of us take the theory of evolution for granted less than 150 years ago the main position of the scientific community was a creationist stance. So ingrained was the creationist viewpoint that Darwin took twenty years to publish his theory due to the Galileo like treatment resulting in scientists counter to the biblical view being ostracized and attacked as heretics.

So what does all this have to do with development? Most of our theories on good development and management methodologies come from those established at the time of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Victorian engineering as an established discipline in the nineteenth century. If we look at the rise of engineering and that of evolution we can see clearly that engineering practices were not informed by evolutionary theory but instead from a creationist viewpoint. To clearly illustrate this consider that as the first copies of Darwin's groundbreaking publication The Origin of Species the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel had been cold in his grave for a good two months.

Creationists (being theists rather than deists) take issue with evolutionary principles that complex biological forms are evolved from simple primitives over numbers of adaptations (dare I say it: iteratively); instead creationists argue that something (mainly the Abrahamic God) created all living creatures instantaneously and perfectly. Culturally we have been indoctrinated with this view point resulting in a populist feeling of common sense that complex systems are only successful if they are designed upfront, created perfect and built to last an indefinable period (Big Design up Front). This view is expounded as evolution is often misinterpreted (often deliberately by creationists) as being based on pure chance.

As engineering and management theories were established under the creationist view of the the biological world so did they become polluted with it. After thousands of years of belief in creationism it is not surprising that 150 years later even modern practices such as software development find creationist ideas still embedded in them. Though evolutionary design is becoming more of a mainstream approach to software development many people still defend the old creationist cause and often argue against Agile methodologies with the cultural preconditioning that unless something is created perfect somehow its overall success is left to chance as everyone is left to do what they want. For many developers moving away from the creationist view is a big step and in the same way the concepts of adaptation in evolution provides answers for a seemingly perfect complex world so it does with Agile, and where evolution emphasis the disciples of natural selection over random chance so Agile has its own disciplines. Fortunately software development is aided by the fact that something intelligent is helping it (or at least most of the time)!


jflowers said...

Well put, I love it!

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West Malling, Kent, United Kingdom
I am a ThoughtWorker and general Memeologist living in the UK. I have worked in IT since 2000 on many projects from public facing websites in media and e-commerce to rich-client banking applications and corporate intranets. I am passionate and committed to making IT a better world.