Topics in Evolution and The Intelligence Of Design

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HUMAN DEVOLUTION: The basic problem with evolution is that it doesn't punish dumb people for bad behavior until after they reproduce! :-)

Natural selection has been largely undermined by human culture. That of course is a good reason why humans are likely overbreeding themselves towards extinction.

I do think that our intelligence may be the thing that destroys us in the end and the biosphere along with us. That depends entirely on whether we can escape our other evolutionary imperatives such as unlimited exploitation of the environment and continued overpopulation, those very capabilities which have made the human race so successful in the past.

And it seems true that nowadays with all the assistance and aid to the less intelligent, that the less intelligent seem to be reproducing faster than the more intelligent. A sort of dysgenics.

The Flynn effect, the gradual average increase in IQ scores, has been cited as evidence that humans in general are becoming more intelligent however the poorer who are on average less intelligent are reproducing considerably faster than the better off. That is strong evidence that the Flynn effect is due to a gradual convergence between what is taught in the schools and what is tested for on IQ tests and not indicative of a general rise in intelligence.

MECHANISMS OF EVOLUTION: Even many who accept evolution misunderstand its basic mechanisms. There are two major aspects to evolution. First there is variation. Second, there is selection among the variants either by survival, sexual reproduction or mostly simply by chance. Both must be considered to understand how evolution works.

Variation occurs in two ways, either by mutations (exogenous changes to germ cell DNA say by ionizing radiation or copying errors), or simply by reshuffling among extant genetic differences at the time of DNA replication. This second mechanism is by orders of magnitude the most common mechanism of evolution. It is going on all the time in all species in every mating.... This is because at any one time only an incredibly minute % of all possible reshufflings are actually extant in living beings which means entirely new ones are always being produced.

There is a great variability among species as to the magnitude of divergence of reshuffling changes. Among horseshoe crabs there appears to be little variance, but among humans there is a very much higher incidence, and in single celled organisms even higher.

In both cases the actual selection is then done by the environment which selects 99.99% by chance and only very very slightly by fitness either in survival or reproduction. For example most species produce vast numbers of young only a few of which survive to reproduce. The mortality of such young is almost entirely a matter of chance as to which die and which survive. So in most cases evolution is primarily a matter of chance, NOT of fitness. This is on average, the actual math of course will vary by the particular species and how it lives and reproduces.

GROUP SELECTION: In my opinion 'group selection' is misdefined in evolutionary theory as it most often refers to selection of the specific characteristic of altruistic behavior rather than how groups are selected by evolution to survive in general. This misdefinition tends to obscure the general mechanism of evolutionary selection across all groupings which is an important and understudied universal dynamic.

Though the topic of whether Group Selection even exists is hotly debated the answer is quite obvious. Groups or species are mixes of many genes. Some groups or species survive and thrive and some don't. Their gene mixes as a group are selected. Individual genes are selected on the basis of the environmental consequences of individual genes, gene mixes are selected on the basis on the environmental consequences of the whole mix. There is absolutely no impediment to thinking about evolution as acting on any definable group.

WHY ORGANISMS AGE: Organisms are designed to age because that is the most efficient way for evolution to proceed. If adults never grew old and died but just kept getting better at surviving, then evolution would greatly slow down because there would not be any environmental space for new generations carrying new genetic variations to occur. To be viable evolution must, in most cases, continually produce new variation to be able to adapt to changing environments. Thus a completely genetically stable population of immortal adults would be the worst thing you would want if an abrupt environmental change occurred.

Thus evolutionary selection has programmed the death of individuals of almost all species to a particular life span adjusted to the balanced replacement of genetic variation. That's what allows evolution to proceed.

This programmed aging is not preordained by evolution. It is the result of species that are so programmed with set life spans being able to adapt better to changing environments and thus those species and the aging characteristic survive and get set to specific time intervals for the species.

In general aging is programmed into cells in their telomere lengths. The Hayflick Limit is the average number of cell divisions any cell line can undergo before dying out and this in general depends on the telomere length of the original cell. This is innate to DNA and transmitted genetically. In general as cell lines age and approach their Hayflick limits more and more accelerating errors creep into the division process and tissues deteriorate. Aging has little to do with specific organ failures or diseases, even though that may occur in response to environmental stress in particular individuals.

THE INTELLIGENCE OF DESIGN: It is without question that the intelligence embedded in the design of life, not to mention the physical universe, is vastly beyond human intelligence. The simple measure of this is that the human intelligence necessary to construct from biological material ab initio even the simplest living organism, much less one able to survive in the natural environment in competition with other organisms and reproduce its kind is many orders of magnitude beyond the bounds of human intelligence. This is the proper measure of the degree of intelligence contained in the design of the living world.

That this intelligence clearly exists does not however necessitate an intelligent designer, nor of course does it rule one out. The proper approach is to study life from the perspective of its embedded intelligence and see where it leads us. Intelligent design need not imply a designer. The intelligent designer assumption just adds complexity to the problem. Who designed him? What nonphysical mechanism did the designer use to create his designs? Better to just address the obvious intelligence in design in a more reasonable and rational way. However wouldn't it be interesting if some day the creator artist's signature is found encoded in all the supposedly non-coding DNA! :-)

One of the most amazing things about the intelligence of DNA is that it knows about itself and how to construct a recursive cellular machine to reproduce itself. If it just knew how to make proteins that would be amazing itself, but it also contains a very advanced knowledge of itself, and of organic chemistry as well, a knowledge of things it really has nothing to do with such as mitochondria which it doesn't produce but nevertheless it knows they exist and what they do so it can do things taking what mitochondria do into consideration. It also knows the much higher level design and functioning of an organism billions of times larger than itself, that is composed of billions of specialized morphs of itself, and not only the physical structure, but the basic instinctual functioning of that system which it encodes.

Life vs chemistry. The amazing thing about the cell to my mind is that within it chemical reactions don't just happen according to the laws of chemistry, but that those chemical reactions are directed and guided by purposeful agents which bring specific chemistry together at particular locations and catalyze it there, and those agents work together in a harmonious system towards a common end. While everything that happens in the cell is based on chemistry and powered by chemistry it also has a separate directed purpose seen eg. in RNA moving information from one spot to another so that a particular chemistry occurs in the particular spot it is needed.

I don't think anyone has any inkling of what the source of this directed purpose is, but it seems to me this is the crux that separates the living from the non-living. Chemistry without direction is just chemistry, but chemistry with direction and purpose is the essence of life.

Another point is the amazing robustness of DNA. The DNA molecule is quite stable and resistant to degradation even over very long time periods and fairly extreme environmental conditions (that's why it can be extracted from old samples where most of the surrounding chemistry has degraded. To me this implies that once DNA based life gets established it has a good chance of surviving. So it might add a little probability to the chance of DNA based life on other planets.

It is interesting in this context just how durable DNA is. It tends to break down much more slowly than the most of the tissue it creates which is why it is recoverable from long dead organisms such as woolly mammoths and Neanderthals. This durability is obviously quite important to the origin of life as it made it much easier for life to persist once it had originated. Likewise for amino acids which can exist even in space. The whole dynamic depends on the extraordinary fine tuning of the properties of carbon which can form a myriad of very stable bonds.

MY THEORY OF CONVERGENT EVOLUTION: Evolution is not random as standard evolutionary theory asserts. This is easy to see when one thinks about how the complex emerges from the most elemental. Evolution just cannot be totally random, there are far far too many possible purely random combinations for this to be the case. Evolution converges towards particular outcomes which are implicit in the basic design of nature. There is some randomness, but the randomness converges towards particular ends.

The idea is that evolution, though it involves a myriad of random processes, tends to converge around somewhat similar outcomes. That it is not just a matter of randomly producing every possible outcome, but that the fine tuning of the basic laws of the universe inevitably favor convergence of evolution to certain types of outcomes, a limited subset of those possible.

The very finely tuned design of quantum mechanics and the elementary particles completely determines the kind of chemistry that can exist in the universe. If the elementary design were even slightly different almost all of the chemistry in the universe would either not exist or be wildly different. In many possible variants of the basic design the universe could either never develop planets or would have already collapsed and died.

Now there is evidence that seems to indicate that the particular chemistry we do end up with is such that life spontaneously tends to appear in a form fairly similar to that which we see in the history of life on earth. That is the complex biochemicals like RNA that are the basis of all life are naturally produced faster than they are broken down so that life in more or less the form we know it is almost guaranteed to appear and survive. Not that the particular species or even families of life are preordained, but that life in the basic form we know it with the details molded by chance occurrences is extremely likely to evolve on any planet where conditions are favorable.

Once we get to that point the accepted laws of evolution kick in and determine the evolution and survival of particular species. One important result of these laws is that intelligence tends to evolve precisely because intelligence conveys survival advantage.

Thus it can be said that the original basic design of the universe tends almost inevitably to converge on the production of intelligent DNA based life. Thus such intelligent life is 'preordained' by that original basic design, by the original fine tuning of physical structure and constants.

This is the sense in which I say evolution tends to converge on preordained outcomes. Those outcomes are never exact since there is both quantum randomness and chance driven evolutionary selection at work. But possible outcomes do tend to converge on a very small subset of all the possible random outcomes.

I use preordained to mean the nearly inevitable consequence. No one should read any thing else into it such as a God that did the preordaining. Though that cannot be falsified it adds more problems than it solves such as who made him and by what mechanism did he do the preordaining. It is of course a matter of semantics and definition. If the likely outcome is determined by the initial conditions then it is implicitly contained in them. This means it is predetermined or pre-ordained in my terminology. That neither implies a designer nor does it rule one out. It does however require one to ask why is it that the fundamental laws of nature are such as to lead to intelligent life with what I suspect is a very high probability.

One should not make the fundamental mistake of confusing planning with inevitability or what I called preordained. The semantics of the 'tuning' of nature does not necessarily imply a 'tuner'. Not at all. Some critics of my idea try to add the concept of a planner or tuner so they can shoot what has become their own idea down. My theory does not imply or require a 'tuner' or creator. That nature naturally trends toward certain evolutionary states such as intelligence need imply no director to its directedness.

Consider a river flowing downhill to the sea. That need not necessarily imply some spirit guiding it on its journey. Not true, it flows by natural law. Likewise evolution tends to converge toward certain outcomes such as intelligence by natural law, not because of some God directing it by supernatural means. One needs at least to understand what I'm proposing and not attack what I don't propose.

We must accept evolution as the mechanism by which life evolves. However there may be something beyond that in the fine tuning of the universe such as to produce intelligent life. That's my suspicion but why that is true is the greatest of anthropic mysteries. That neither denies the ongoing mechanism of evolution nor requires an intelligent designer. The gaps in evolution are not the 'missing links' between species, but rather evolution's silence on the why and the possible convergence of random evolution towards end states pre-determined by the fine tuning of the basic laws of nature, including intelligent life forms.

THE ORIGINS OF LIFE: The understanding of the origins of life go hand in hand with coming up with a proper definition of what life is. Shouldn't the definition of life simply be a free living self-replicating system able to survive as a species (through multiple generations) within some environment? Ideally that system would be able to adjust its design to better survive in changing environments that is be capable of evolving via small differences produced in each successive generation, but I'm not sure that needs to be included in the definition of life, just perhaps in the definition of successful life.

That definition would of course apply to self replicating artificial systems. If you want a biological definition just add the additional requirement that the material the system is made of must be 'squishy'.

According to my theory of Convergent Evolution life in its origins is simply a natural chemical reaction, intrinsically no different than any other and subject to the same general rules as all chemical reactions. If this is correct, it does imply life is universal. Thus life itself can be said to be pre-ordained by the fine tuning of the laws of nature, just as chemistry is, just as atomic structures are. And since intelligence conveys advantages of survivability, we can also assume that the evolution of intelligent life is also pre-ordained.

In other words, no matter what random occurrences may happen, the evolution of a universe with the same start state and tuning will tend to converge on the existence of intelligent life. Thus intelligent life is not an accident, it is implicit in the original design of the universe.

The best way to understand entropy is with respect to energy which is completely objectively quantitative and measurable. Energy of course, including that bound as matter, is conserved, so there is always the same total amount. However that energy can be either distributed uniformly, which is maximum high entropy, or it can be localized. When there is localization of energy entropy is lower depending on the degree of localization. Now whenever energy is localized it tends to find some process by which it can equalize, i.e. distribute some energy from higher concentrations to lower. To do this it must find some physical transfer mechanism.

So it may be the case that life is a (slightly) more efficient mechanism for the transfer of entropy than inorganic processes might have been. Now considered from the point of view of a living organism as energy flows through it, its structure serves as an entropy production device, but to do this it uses energy (accommodates an energy flow efficiently) thus it functions energetically. The net effect to the entire system is that this energetic process (like all processes, each of which is a flow of energy) works towards reducing total entropy of the local system and thus of the entire universe.

THE TREE OF LIFE: Actually human DNA does contain much of the memory of all previous life forms.

WHAT IS A SPECIES? There is really no precise definition possible due to the continual budding off of new related groups from the tree of life. It's an outmoded example of the human mind seeking precision where there is actually none in the real world. The idea that ability to reproduce defines species is way outmoded. There are numerous exceptions. However though the borders of the sets are fuzzy they are much more member dense away from the edges so with that caveat, that species are determined by bunchings of characteristics with many overlaps, one can define species by those bunchings.

RECREATING DINOSAURS: It currently seems unlikely to extract dinosaur DNA either from blood meals preserved in amber or soft tissue from dinosaur bones however there is another approach to bringing dinosaurs back to life that is very promising. Birds retain the genes that produced teeth, long reptilian tails and other dinosaur characteristics. They are normally turned off and not expressed but they can be turned back on by tinkering with the genes to produce bird embryos with teeth. This along with similar unexpressed genes for long reptilian tails which can also be turned back on, are currently being explored in an attempt to recreate dinosaurs from their bird descendants, using emus, turkeys and chickens.

THE SELFISH GENE: All life forms on earth, all species, are simply transportation and replication packages for the genes which they, in their wisdom, have constructed to take over the planet. That's why the individual transporter life forms are disposable, only the information encoded in the DNA is important and worth preserving, because that is what all life amounts to - simply self replicating information embodying a master intelligence many orders of magnitude greater than that of any of the transporter forms has in its brain.

Only the genes are alive and intelligent, all the rest is infrastructure. :-)