Monday, 22 December 2014

The fittest survive: but how?

The expression 'the fittest survive' is supposed to sum up the theory of evolution by natural selection yet as Darwin himself pointed out this is a misrepresentation. The term is tautological or circular. What survives in nature? The fittest. What is the fittest? That which survives. No information is given by the expression.

More accurately one should say that the species which survives is the one most adaptable to a constantly changing environment. This is not necessarily the strongest or most intelligent.

The big question is the means by which living systems adapt. Is it a blind process or is there some intelligence built into the process of adaptation or in the orchestration of the whole spectrum of life or both?

The modern science of epigenetics is pointing in the direction of learned behaviour being passed from generation to generation, not just by training of offspring by parents but also by data transfer at a biological level between generations. When an animal discovers a more efficient way of foraging for food the relevant data are actually stored in its body brain system and passed on to subsequent generations, without teaching, by whatever epigenetic system it is which controls the gene switches in response to different environments.

I remember hearing a science news item on the BBC several years ago. A calf of a cow which had learned to avoid cattle grids was separated from its mother before it had ever seen a cattle grid yet as it was placed in an environment which included a cattle grid it immediately knew that it should be avoided.

This epigenetic transgenerational process is in contradiction to neo-Darwinist dogma in that it involves taking in information from the environment, modifying the gene switching meta-system and passing this on to future generations so that they are better fitted to the world. This is not yet fully accepted, just as the Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity was not initially accepted by those unable to cast off the old Newtonian model; but the research is moving that way. Adaptation is not a blind process of random mutations. Intelligent experiments take place and intelligence is somehow involved in selecting those species – bacteria, plant or animal- which not only work individually, but together in cooperation and competition with the myriads of other species around them. Human society and history mirrors this.

The recent international collaboration known as ENCODE (encyclopaedia of DNA elements), and similar projects, are divulging a wealth of insight and information on the extraordinarily intelligent processes which are taking place in the cell. The TV show 

 Secret Universe: the Hidden Life of the Cell,

 with a commentary by David Tennant (BBC2 Sunday 21 Oct, 2012) has taken a step towards revealing the intelligence of nature by showing with amazing animation how a cell fights viruses. 

Although this is only the smallest tip of a huge iceberg it is refreshing to hear words like 'blueprint', 'purpose' and 'design' mentioned in the commentary of a BBC TV science documentary. 

As one who believes in God it seems to me more likely that he would bring forth humanity by this kind of process than by random mutations plus natural selection and the more we look into biology the more inadequate neo-Darwinism appears to be in explaining how we have appeared as the endpoint of a cosmic explosion from a point in existential nothingness 13.7 billion years ago.

see also

The deep mystery of existance.3. Evolution equals design

Natural technology: the virus

The doctrine of chance

 Teleological argument for the existence of God
2077 novel: buy & preview options + reviews

Friday, 5 December 2014

Human evolution - fast or slow or both? (updated 20 December 2014)

One of the tenets of neo-Darwinism is that Homo sapiens evolved gradually from higher primates over millions of years.

Palaeoanthropologists and archaelogists build up elaborate models of various species that, from fossils, look close in bone structure to modern humans and also associate these with various artifices (tools, primitive musical instruments, jewellery etc.), cave art, burial customs and evidence of hunting or gathering habits. (When you compare paleontology and paleo-anthropology with physics you realize just how inexact are these fields.)

I am not a professional scholar but my understanding is that the standard model of evolution has Homo sapiens emerging up  to around 1 million years ago.  Yet I feel there must be something wrong here. If people like us were thinking, acting, innovating and philosophizing that long why have we not already gone to other worlds long ago, or explored the limits of the universe or unlocked a wealth of secrets of the natural world? Why did it take so long to develop language, abstract thought, science and mathematics and to invent technology in a whole different ball park from that of any other species?

The earliest signs of civilised societies appear to date back to only around 10,000 BC, if not in Mesopotamia (approximately today's Iraq, in the area of the Tigris- Euphrates river system) then somewhere in that region  (possibly Iran).  Since then we have developed at a huge rate. What were our ancestors doing for the hundreds of millenia  prior to that? Even 100,000 years is a long time in human history – 10 times as long as from the first real evidence of civilisation until today. Were we just clubbing each other, sitting round camp fires cooking meat and telling each other stories for a million years and then suddenly there was a quantum jump into a totally new mode of existing and evolving?

Nobody, to my knowledge, has explained how new species appear. All we know is that phenomenonally complex, integrated, sophisticated, intelligent, purposeful processes occur at the DNA level and somehow this is connected with speciation and interaction with the environment.  We also know, from the fossil record, that new species  appear suddenly, not gradually, and that these, while sharing certain traits, are  different in architecture and functional organization from any preceding species. We are very different even from the other primates (elaborate tool making, art, language, symbolism, abstract thought, irony, humour, mathematics, literature, quantum mechanics, cosmology, biology, geology, non-survival directed curiosity, constant innovation, town and city planning, space travel, aviation, internet, iPhones, radio, TV, YouTube, nuclear energy etc. etc. plus worship of our Creator, free will, concern for the well being of other people, of other creatures and of the whole planet).

 So from where I stand it looks as though Homo sapiens sapiens (the second sapiens has now has to be added, presumably to distinguish it the species what had previously been classified as a truly human ancestor) modern upright smooth-skinned man with a voice, self-consciousness, conscience, abstract thought and tool-making manipulative hands, rather than ape man, emerged suddenly probably not more than fifty thousand years ago.  So the move from 


was not a gradual advance but a discontinuous one. There was a quantum jump when modern man appeared in the last 50,000 years.  Agriculture and civilization rose rapidly from what seems to have been continual pervasive tribal and family violence, replacing it with a way of life that was  less uncertain and frightening because order was maintained by brutal laws. Then in the first century AD the power of spiritual peace began to bring about a better world wherever Christ was not rejected: punishment became less harsh, society became more fair and rulers less violent. Around 1600 knowledge and technology in Christendom grew exponentially. The 20th century showed what happens where Christ is deliberately rejected (e.g. Maoism, Marxism and Nazism enacted a degree of violence and inhumanity not seen since pre-Christian paganism. The 21st century could be about to make the same mistake as Christ is made politically incorrect in western nations and brutally attacked in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan.)

 Could evolution be analogous to technological evolution? Yes, there is natural selection but the system which is being selected by the environment, has to be viable for testing by the environment, a functioning organism. Just as a new iPad has to be a viable functioning piece of technology before it is launched into the competitive environment. Moreover, the biosphere itself has to be in symbiosis with each new species. Like a new invention, a new species (immeasurably more advanced in structure, materials and function than any man-made system; this applies even to the first living bacterium) requires  creativity, intelligence and will power from some entity somehow somewhere. 

Of course, you could take the irrational way out and put it all down to chance, the old standby which explains everything and nothing and has zero predictive power or practical application.


author 2077 Knights of Peace

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Ridding the world of violence: not the whole answer

In the novel 2077 I introduce the idea of a dedicated quasi-military but unarmed organization called the Order of  the Knights of Peace. They are able to overcome those who resist arrest or ‘impoundment’  but only with special technology which does not inflict injury or cause death  to the enemy. Even when  Knights are in physical danger they must risk injury or death to themselves rather than to an opponent, something which could result in their dismissal from the order..

Looking at the sorry state of the world today I feel such an organization is  sorely needed. Although we do not have the extensive arsenal of peace technology available in 2077 we are beginning to move in that direction.

The Taser is one example, although it is far from the cocooning baton used by the Knights, and imperfect in that it can cause injury if wrongly used. Tracker dogs for sniffing out explosives could be regarded as the forerunners of the GM bees of 2077. Small drones for spying on terrorist groups could be predecessors of the spyflies in the novel. Decryption and computer analysis is already being used to tackle the organization and information flow of terrorist groups like IS (which I prefer to think of as Imbeciles of Satan rather than Islamic State, lest I, a follower of Christ, offend my Moslem friends). The science of sociodynamics of 2077 does not, as far as  I know,  have a precursor today but if applied to suicide bombing the aim would be to track down and arrest the ones who incite young people to carry out such attacks.

But the violence-inflicting democracy-hating groups  and armies of today still have a large strategic advantage whether in combat or in attempts to defend their actions, which is why I set the novel so far ahead, giving the technology and methodology time to catch up. In the story there are a dozen or so techniques available to the Knights.

While writing the book over 5 years, during which my worldview was gradually changing from a  narrow science-centred materialism to a  broader, Christ-centred one which encompassed both science and religion, I began to realise that, no matter how powerful the technology,  these ‘peace enforcing’ methods would not solve the long term problem of evil and its consequences.  Which is where the 'Divine Light' comes in.  Violent charismatic, domineering individuals ('dominophiles') are located and  spiritually transformed. Not indoctrinated but taken to a higher spiritual level through free will decisions.

The end point would be a world in which  violence could not happen.

But would this necessarily be a good idea? Imagine that all weapons, even medieval ones like swords, knives and axes, could be removed by magic. No one would even think about changing the social or religious order by force. The French Revolution, the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, Nazism, Stalinism etc. would not be options.

Yet it is a sad fact that much of the social progress of the world has involved violence. Suppose violence was removed from the equation entirely. How would injustice be corrected?  Suppose the peasants  being exploited in France before the French Revolution  had no means of attacking the upper classes of the time?  

Plato  thought that democracy was flawed because voters would always look after their own material interests. In the West today there is widespread concern about the health and social welfare system as the population ages.  The sanctity of human life has already been devalued by abortion (which I support in certain situations only) and humanists have advocated infanticide up to the age of two, which would amount to the paganism of pre-Christian society.  Senicide has been openly discussed as a way of dealing with the problem of what to do with old people as they became a burden.  What next? In a secular democracy bereft of spiritual values the majority would vote for whatever suited the majority, no matter how minority groups were affected. Germany was a secular democracy which voted in Hitler who helped the majority by gassing or carrying out humanity -benefiting experiments on the minority - troublesome and offensive handicapped people of all races as well as Jews and Slavs. And these minority groups would have no recourse other than to find the odd parliamentary activist to defend their interests or to engage in mass demonstrations or online campaigns ; but such measures only bring about change when there is a large undercurrent of support. The majority are not usually interested in any measure which threatens their own interest.

In a secular democracy there is no way of securing the interests of minorities when their well being harms in some way the interests of the majority. In 2077 this problem is not part of the story but nevertheless the end world envisaged might have the solution. But to accept this you must believe in the Holy Spirit, from which the Divine Light emanates, as the route by which the religions of the world, including Hinduism, Islam, Judaism  and Christianity are brought together under Christ.  Yes, 'Christianity' has to be included in the list. Regrettably, much of institutional Christianity today is no closer to the all encompassing Christ than the other religions.  (Let me make it clear at this point that I attend a church and believe corporate Christianity is an essential  part of God’s plan for the world.)

How then would one help the underdog in a post 2077 democracy under Christ?  The answer could lie in the concept of an inner holy sanctum.

 ‘Hermit Sages’ in 2077 are individuals who have given up all worldly interests and devoted themselves to prayer, meditation and the study of worldly matters while being separated from it and having no material interest in it. Occasionally they would visit the minority groups involved to help establish the nature of their problem. They would also have to consult with the holders of power. But in all cases they would be respected and trusted to guide society in accordance with God’s plan for a better world. The media of the future would keep a close watch on them. The Hermit Sages would not  resent it because they would have nothing to hide and see openness as essential in gaining trust.   Media coverage, much of it by journalists also under the Divine Light, would  ensure that the Hermit Sages of the inner sanctum were performing their role. Where no obvious exploitation of the weak or downtrodden occurred, i.e. where there was no violation of the Sermon on the Mount, voting by an informed electorate would be the standard way of making decisions on the government of society.

Personally, I can’t see any other way  forward.  But first we have to get rid of the ordnance now circulating throughout the world and available to all and sundry without causing escalation by using violence as a solution. We also have to peacefully persuade the world that democratic government backed up by an inner holy sanctum would be the only way to avoid present injustices being frozen in. 

Another anti-violence concept in 2077 involves the Theatre of War, in which robots vicariously fight under international supervision on behalf of nations. This method is used to settle disputes over territory, natural resources etc.

I am hoping that my novel might inspire someone somewhere, or some people somewhere,  to focus on these questions and move the world a fraction forward. It can be no more than a tentative first step.


PS I also wanted to write an entertaining page turner! You will have to be the judge of that. Hopefully professors of literature and critics won't be too hard on me.