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
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