Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Doctrine of Chance: the New God of the Gaps (updated October 2015)

Image result for chance diceHear the Doctrine of Chance adhered to by post-Enlightenment unreasonable man,
expressed in Psalm 151.  (There are 150 Psalms in the Holy Bible.)

Listen, all ye who are able to hear...

  • The universe of space, time and energy emerged from nothingness as a Big Bang about 13 billion years ago with all its laws of physics and physical constants in place to permit life.
          Why? Chance.
  •   The universe started with precisely the right balance between order and chaos to allow the galaxies, stars, planets and life itself to evolve.
         Why? Chance.
  • The universe was destined to evolve in an ordered, directional way, from a point to the structured expanse we see today.
          Why? Chance
  • The physical constants which govern the cosmological expansion rate, the strength of gravitational, nuclear and electromagnetic forces, and much else, were fixed at the time of the Big Bang and are fine tuned to a hair’s breadth to make biological organisms possible. E.g. the constant governing the strength of weak nuclear forces is fine tuned to 100 decimal places. Had these constants been slightly different there would be no life.
         Why? Chance.
  • The 92 elements of the periodic table were progressively, systematically manufactured over billions of years, mostly in stars, and all these were needed to build the world we know today. The human body alone has 60 of these.
         Why? Chance.

  • The sun is 400x the diameter of the moon and 400x the distance. In the sky they look identical in size. This allowed the sentient beings of Earth to witness solar eclipses not possible anywhere else in the universe we know about, thus stimulating our curiosity and allowing us to discover helium via spectroscopy of the sun’s atmosphere before it was found on the Earth.
          Why? Chance.

  • The moon is just the right mass and distance from earth to spin stabilise its axial rotation and provide smooth, rhythmic tidal movement, both instrumental, if not crucial, to life’s evolution.
         Why? Chance.

  • The information-rich, staggeringly diverse biosphere emerged out of a chaotic and unpleasant environment over some 4 billion years.
           Why? Chance.
  • The sky on Earth is clear enough to allow its sentient beings to see the universe and be inspired by it. As telescopes were invented it became apparent that the universe was vast beyond previous imaginings and that our rare position in the galaxy enables us to see the universe right back to its centre and origin.
          Why? Chance.

  • The Earth has the axial tilt, orbital characteristics, rotational stability,  temperature, plate tectonics, size, mass, oceans, magnetic field and atmosphere which allowed life to get a hold and evolve
          Why? Chance.
  • The Earth is so placed in the solar system as to be shielded from comet bombardment by Jupiter and from frequent asteroid bombardment by Jupiter, Mars and Venus. Other planets are not so protected.
           Why? Chance.

  • Over the 4 billion year history of the Earth mass extinctions due to volcanoes and impacts have allowed evolution to proceed to sentient, cosmos-aware, curious beings.
             Why? Chance

  • If conscious beings had not started at this stage in the  accelerating expansion of  the universe the sky they witnessed would either be a bright, featureless expanse of light at all times (because the stars would be too close) or totally devoid of any stars (because they would be too far away and moving too fast). Humankind came on the scene at just the right time to be able to peer back to the very beginning of the universe and witness the  wonders of creation.

              Why? Chance

  • The solar system appears to have choreographed the formation of our planet and given us unique conditions and materials to permit the creation of life and the building of civilization.
                    Why? Chance

  • The Earth’s surface is protected from life damaging cosmic rays and solar radiation by its magnetic field (the Van Allen Belts) and from ultraviolet sunlight by the Ozone layer. Other planets are not.
          Why? Chance.

  • Life was miraculously complex and intelligent from its very beginning as bacteria only 200 million years after the planet was created.
         Why? Chance.

  • Humans consisting almost entirely of energy configurations in vacuum, as do all apparently solid entities, have come into being able and thirsting to delve into the manifold secrets of the universe and the nature of their own being.
          Why? Chance.

  •  Water has unique chemical properties essential for life and Earth had enough to host early evolution. Moreover it has co-existed in solid, liquid and gaseous forms for billions of years and this allowed life to flourish as nowhere else of which we are presently aware, having discovered some 2000 exoplanets.
          Why? Chance.

  • Water expands instead of contracts as it is cooled the last 4 deg C above freezing point, while still in liquid form. Without this expansion the oceans would now be solid ice and the planet would be largely, if not wholly, lifeless. No other liquid has this property.
         Why? Chance.

  • Water is transparent at the same wavelength as the yellowish sunlight which illuminates the Earth, thus allowing undersea creatures to see around them and evolve their vision systems. (Any other colour of sunlight would have rendered undersea vision impossible or much reduced.)
         Why? Chance.

  • Sentient beings with eyes and minds perceive the universe and so, in a sense, bring it into existence, with themselves as the conceptual centre and reference point.
          Why? Chance

  • Life over billions of years evolved a rich and benevolent biosphere, a Garden of Eden into which Homo sapiens emerged a few tens of thousands of years ago. The intelligence and creative power to make the biosphere were there, presumably, from the first bacteria.
         Why? Chance.

  • According to the latest research in quantum biology (post 2007) and epigenetics (post 2000) it looks very much as though the whole biosphere is a learning system imbued with intelligence and purpose right down to the biomolecular and sub-cellular level. The universe must have been created with infinite computing power and cosmic purpose.

           Why? Chance.
  • Homo sapiens have a highly developed sense of self, a rich imagination, hands able to finely manipulate and write, a vocal system suitable for sophisticated communication, intelligence to make tools, the ability to heal and care for the sick, the desire to do this for both humans and animals, the ability to grow crops and farm livestock, the ability to make computers,  a relentless curiosity about  origins and destiny, the ability to explore other celestial bodies, the desire to do this, an inbuilt conscience, free will the ability to choose between good and evil, a need for love, an awareness of beauty, a desire for justice and a sense that there is life after physical death.
         Why? Chance.

The writer of Psalm 151 would like to apologise to the great random event generator beyond space-time lest he hath overlooked in his ignorance any other marvellous examples of the all pervasiveness of Chance.

1984: collective post-modernism

Infinity, eternity and cosmology

2077 novel: buy & preview options + reviews


Friday, 2 October 2015

The startling phenomena of epigenetics and quantum biology (updated 22 October 2015)

Johann Mendel discovered genetics,
not epigenetics
Previous posts have referred to epigenetics and the fact that certain learned or acquired traits can be passed down several generations. This is not the same as genetic inheritance, by which innate physical characteristics (e.g. eye colour)  coded into the genes within the DNA of an organism are transmitted to its offspring by a fairly well established biomolecular process. The science of genetic inheritance started with the work of Mendel,   a 19th century Augustian Friar, who experimented with the cultivation of peas.

 In epigenetics an organism interacts with its environment and changes in some way - physically or mentally or both. This change is then passed on to future generations and not just through the genes per se.
The extremely complex processes involved are only just beginning to be investigated, let alone understood. They involve a mechanism taking place in the 98.5% of a human DNA strand (tightly coiled within the cell’s nucleus) formerly dismissed as junk and recently studied as part of the ENCODE project. 4 million genetic switches are involved. These determine how genes work in concert with the Golgi apparatus (which is within the cell but outside the nucleus) to manufacture the precise grade and type of protein at the right place at the right time within a cell.  The proteins then have to be assembled and coordinated in barely understood ways to produce an organism. ( NB: all these processes and, many more at a subcellular level occurr on a scale small enough for Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to impose a limit on how far they can be investigated - like the universe before the Big Bang creation event.)

This is from Nessa Carey's new  book (see link below) and shows how complex are the processes which go on inside the junk DNA and help decide which genes are turned on, how and under what circumstance

A year or so ago I learned about an experiment on mice to discover whether psychiatric stress might affect future generations.

The results suggest an epigenetic process. It is certainly not explained by the conventional science of genetic inheritance.

Larry Feig and Lorena Saavedra-Rodríguez, biochemists at the Tufts University School of Medicine, caused chronic social stress in adolescent mice. Female and male mice were exposed to chronic social stress involving social instability and disruption of social hierarchy from postnatal day 27 to 76. After treatment, a group of animals was used to evaluate long-term behavioural effects of the stress exposure, and other mice were used to generate first, second and third generation offspring across generations

The researchers then tested these stressed mice in adulthood using a series of standard laboratory measures for rodent anxiety, such as how long the mice spent in open areas of a maze and how frequently they approached mice they had never met before. Female mice showed more anxious behaviors compared with control animals (i.e. animals which had not been subject to these pressures) , whereas the males did not seem to be affected.

The offspring of both males and females subject o these stressful influences displayed more anxious behaviors, however, and ‘the males who had been stressed as adolescents even transmitted these behavior patterns to their female grandchildren and great-grandchildren. These results confirm previous studies that females seem to be at higher risk for anxiety.’
So this transmission of anxiety was passed down to females even by males who had not themselves been made anxious by stressful treatment during adolescence. Quoting the abstract in Biological Psychiatry:  ‘these findings support the idea that individual risk for psychiatric disorders that involve enhanced anxiety and/or social dysfunction may be dependent not only on the specific alleles of genes that are inherited from one's parents and on one's own experiences, but also on the experiences of one's parents when they were young.’ My italics.

In recent years research on epigenetics has been gathering pace. E.g. here is a link to a list of conferences and workshops on the subject over 2015-2016

The processes of transgenerational epigentics have enormous implications for the mechanism of evolution. They imply that random mutations are not the answer, a conclusion which many people of all faiths, including atheists, have already reached. Opinion polls show intuitive rejection of standard evolutionary dogma by a majority of people, regardless of religion or absence of religion. Mutations undoubtedly play a role in microevolution (e.g. modifications to limbs within a species over generations as the environment changes) but even these are turning out not to be random since the mutations conform to a pattern and it is, as far as I am aware, an accepted fact that no new mammalian,avian or reptilian species has been created since humankind appeared in the fossil record. New discoveries have been made e.g. in the depths of the jungle, but these are thought to be of long established previously undiscovered species. The only examples of new species appearing through selection forces working on genetic mutations are those of microbes and plants, and even here the mutations appear to be guided, i.e. they are not random.

In the last couple of years evidence has emerged of another field previously unknown to evolutionary biologists. Now that more physicists are entering the profession it has been discovered that quantum phenomena play a major role in nature and this is bound to  further change evolutionary theory in a radical way. In future posts I hope to do some justice to this aspect of biology, shown to be instrumental in bird migration (quantum entanglement), photosynthesis (superposition of states)  and odour detection (ditto). 

I can recommend Life on the edge: the coming age of quantum biology by Jim Al=Khali and Johnjoe McFadden

I am some way into this now and am enjoying seeing how the Creator has made nature a learning system rather than one driven by chance. However, a word of caution to the reader. The authors, having abandoned the old idea of evolution being driven by random mutations plus natural selection, still cling to their god of chance as the author of being. It is unfortunate that such good science writing should be marred by the imposition of authors' religious belief. Al-Khali is in an influential position in the media. Brian Cox imposes similar religious belief's on his BBC audience.

For evolutionary science to leap forward mainstream biology needs to wake up to the results of emerging discoveries like these. I have never seen epigenetic transgenerational transfer of environmentally derived information described on any BBC TV documentary yet it is of world shattering importance. That this works in conjunction with quantum phenomena seems a near certaintly.

And the processes and mechanisms involved originate, like the universe itself, from outside of space, time, matter and energy.

I have also started reading a new book by Nessa Carey, one of the pioneers in epigenetics, 

Junk DNA: a journey through the dark matter of the genome

Her earlier book, the Epigenetics Revolution, I have already read and I can highly recommend it.

Reach me at

John Sears. author
2077: Knights of Peace