Thursday, January 19, 2017

Not Your Grandmother's Evolution

Michael Skinner. Not Mule Skinner.
Pay attention.
I changed my mind.

I just found another bit on evolution and epigenetics from Michael Skinner in, who's getting to be my fave. My BSF. That's Best Scientist Forever.

The link is at the end.

And here're the best bits:

The unifying theme for much of modern biology is based on
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the process of natural selection by which nature selects the fittest, best-adapted organisms to reproduce, multiply and survive.

The process is also called adaptation, and traits most likely to help an individual survive are considered adaptive. As organisms change and new variants thrive, species emerge and evolve.

But this explanation for evolution turns out to be incomplete, suggesting that other molecular mechanisms also play a role in how species evolve.

Part of the explanation can be found in some concepts that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed 50 years before Darwin published his work. Lamarck’s theory, long relegated to the dustbin of science, held, among other things, ‘that the environment can directly alter traits, which are then inherited by generations to come’.

Lamarck, a professor of invertebrate zoology at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, studied many organisms including insects and worms in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He introduced the words ‘biology’ and ‘invertebrate’ into the scientific lexicon, and wrote books on biology, invertebrates and evolution. Despite this significant academic career, Lamarck antagonised many of his contemporaries and 200 years of scientists with his blasphemous evolutionary ideas.

At the start, Lamarck might have been pilloried as a religious

heretic, but in modern times, it is the orthodoxy of science – and especially Darwin’s untouchable theory of evolution – that has caused his name to be treated as a joke. Yet by the end of his career, Darwin himself had come around; even without the benefit of molecular biology, he could see that random changes were not fast enough to support his theory in full.

(Here) is the precise definition of epigenetics: the molecular factors that regulate how DNA functions and what genes are turned on or off, independent of the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetics involves a number of molecular processes that can dramatically influence the activity of the genome without altering the sequence of DNA in the genes themselves.

Environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance

has now been observed in plants, insects, fish, birds, rodents, pigs and humans. The epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of phenotypic trait variation and disease has been shown to occur across a span of at least 10 generations in most organisms, with the most extensive studies done in plants for hundreds of generations.

One example in plants, a heat-induced flowering trait first observed by Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century, was later found to be due to a DNA methylation modification that occurred in the initial plant, and has been maintained for 100 generations.

In worms, traits altered by changes in nutrition have been shown to

propagate over 50 generations. In mammals with longer generation times, we have found toxicant-induced abnormal traits propagated for nearly 10 generations. In most of these studies, the transgenerational traits do not degenerate but continue.

Much as Lamarck suggested, changes in the environment literally alter our biology. And even in the absence of continued exposure, the altered biology, expressed as traits or in the form of disease, is transmitted from one generation to the next.

Here's what evolutionary folks did. They used Randomness in evolution to get rid of the need for God.

Here's what religious folks did. They missed that entirely mostly and decided that the earth and the universe were only 6000 or so years old and everything happened instantaneously, more or less, spread out over six days.

Here's where we get to meet in the middle. Evolution is a thing, but
it is not a random thing. Things self-organize to solve problems of survival with intent and specificity. It's an intelligent process of reacting to the environment quickly and deliberately, not over long periods of time gradually and randomly.

It happens in ONE generation. And can persist for A HUNDRED generations.

Not gradually over long periods of time. Not randomly in any sense.

So since Randomness has gone away,

God is back.

You should go read it right now.

Now. You might be saying, what a minute! Just because Randomness is gone doesn't mean God is back! WTH!

Well. Yes, it does. If they used Randomness to get rid of the need for God, then logically if Randomness is no longer Randomness, then it's pretty reasonable to say that God is needed. That's just logic.

But. Maybe you need a bit more than that. OK.

Evolution as a theory doesn't get rid of God. Just like the good ol'
laws of nature, if the universe has a starting point, then the question, where do the laws come from, has as a possible and reasonable answer, God made the laws.

It's not the only reasonable answer, but, well, there are no other answers to the question, so you've got that or nothing.

You could then say, well, that's just God-of-the-Gaps all over again. Don't know the answer, so just blame it on God.

The problem with that is that God-of-the-Gaps is an inside-the-universe thing. Not an outside-the-universe thing.

Everything inside the universe can be explained (eventually probably) by the laws of physics.

But the laws of physics only exist inside the universe. Including, as far as we know, evolution. Which is really a process more than a law.

The universe produced the laws of physics, and evolution is
apparently derived from those, and all of that happened because of Big Bang creating the universe itself, and so we have no laws to cause Big Bang and we've no real idea at all why there are laws and particles and forces and all of that. Why there is something rather than nothing, that is.

The laws of physics are intelligent and ordered and extraordinarily calibrated to the finest of fine-tunings, and if there is only one universe (which is all we will ever ever ever have evidence for), then, well, somebody smart set it all up. Even if there are many universes, there still could be somebody smart out there in the Nothing setting it all up.

And an evolutionary process that is non-random is clearly the product of a smart somebody out there somewhere.

For lack of a better word, we'll call that God.

So here's what we're saying. If things happen in life, the universe
and everything (Nice phrase, that. I should remember it.) with clear and unmistakeable signs of an intelligence, one that empowered the universe with the laws of physics and with the amazing power of epigenetically driven evolution driving things so that intelligent observers would arrive in the universe and cause REALITY ITSELF to come into being, then, well,

that intelligence, that organizing observing intelligence outside of time and space that observed the universe into being and imbued it with organizing laws and rules so that

first there was the language of the universe (mathematics) and second there was physics and third there was physical chemistry (inside of stars) and fourth there was then chemistry (the table of elements) and fifth there was biochemistry (life itself) and sixth there were eventually observers and seventh there was Reality, then

you don't have to call it the God of Christianity or Judaism or Islam or the gods of Hinduism or the pantheonic gods of Rome or Greece,

but whatever. It's a lot like whatever God would be if God were.

And what we've already seen in previous posts is that the universe is apparently defined by 

Interactions. Relata. Relationships.

Which means that this God is likely to be an interactional,
relational God, and thus it is entirely reasonable to suggest that this God

is all about relationships.

Perhaps even and especially

with us.

Dang. That's some sweet logic.


  1. Since the epigenetic mechanisms are triggered by the environment, wouldn't the molecular processes still be random in nature since the environment itself is random in the sense that we can explain environmental processes without invoking God?

  2. Good question. It is normal for science and scientists to confuse randomness with chaotic unpredictability. Richard Dawkins does it all the time. Especially true if one wants to be Newtonian about it - there is no randomness, everything is predetermined by the laws of physics and Laplace's Demon tells us that if we could get enough information, we could make predictions with perfection.

    But, it is not purely a Newtonian universe - it's a relativistic, quantum, chaotic, complex universe. A quantum universe is probabilistic rather than random, operating under the inscrutable but incredibly well-structured laws of quantum physics. A chaotic universe is unpredictable but not random; again, everything is constrained by the 4 fundamental interactions of nature. A complex universe self-organizes in an unpredictable way, but again constrained by those same interactions.

    So it all comes down to the laws of physics - everything, including environmental processes, derives from those 4 things plus quantum mechanics. If one goes back to the beginning of the universe, then one finds that those five things caused everything in the universe now to happen in a pretty linear fashion, a process that we are learning to describe and understand pretty well.

    So the question ultimately is, where did the laws of physics come from? And the partial answer is, the four fundamental forces arrived inside the universe after Big Bang. The laws didn't produce the universe - the universe produced the laws. The sole exception is quantum theory, which is really just a bunch of equations we discovered that describe how everything in the universe works perfectly and may or may not have been operative before (recognizing that there is no "before") Big Bang.

    If the universe is infinitely old, then we don't have to talk about God. But since it had a starting point, and since space, time, the laws of physics, energy, matter and everything else arrived rather than pre-existing, then one has to ask, is this something that God could have done? And the answer is, sure. Everything coming from nothing so precisely matches what Genesis said that most scientists rejected the idea of Big Bang for that reason - it sounded too much like religion. So it is entirely reasonable to believe that God did it; without God, there is no science to have produced the universe in the way that it was produced. You're not compelled to believe in God, but it is rational, reasonable and intelligent to do so. This is not to say that all believers do so in a rational, reasonable and intelligent way, but then, neither do all disbelievers. Most atheists and agnostics don't like the version of God that is presented to them by the various religions, but all religions tend to be reductive when it comes to describing God, almost Newtonian, and lose much of the essence of something that would have and could have created everything from nothing. So I wrote a book about it, Quantum God Fractal Jesus. Awesome title.

    Anyway, your thoughts?