Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Was Evolution Guided?


The current and most commonly accepted theory of evolution is frequently called the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis. Its basic thesis is that the laws of nature, and natural selection operating on random processes, accounts for how life went from single-celled organisms to all the species on Earth today.

Here are a few facts that are pretty much accepted by scientists. The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Fossil evidence for the earliest single-celled organisms seems to point to life starting around 3.7 billion years ago, shortly after the Earth cooled enough to support life. 

Life mostly consisted of single-celled organisms until about 600 million years ago, when we have evidence of quite well-developed animal phyla. This occurred during the Cambrian Explosion – an explosion of life.

So life went from single cells to humans in about the last 600 million years. 

The Fossil Record

The fossil record is pretty clear about this. But what the fossil record does not show is what Darwin expected - a gradual changing from one species to the next. Rather, it mostly shows many species remaining fairly unchanged for a few million years, and then dying off and replaced by entirely new species. Stephen J. Gould called this 'punctuated equilibrium'. 

Here's a quote from the Wikipedia article: "Punctuated Equilibrium is a theory in evolutionary biology which proposes that once species appear in the fossil record they will become stable, showing little net evolutionary change for most of their geological history. This state is called stasis. When significant evolutionary change occurs, the theory proposes that it is generally restricted to rare and geologically rapid events of branching speciation ... the process by which a species splits into two distinct species, rather than one species gradually transforming into another. Punctuated equilibrium is commonly contrasted against the belief that evolution generally occurs uniformly and by the steady and gradual transformation of whole lineages." 

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr complimented Gould's paper, stating that evolutionary stasis had been "unexpected by most evolutionary biologists" and that punctuated equilibrium "had a major impact on paleontology and evolutionary biology". 

Today, the fossil record still supports Punctuated Equilibrium, and the late Stephen Gould and others have made numerous attempts to explain it. 

But none of these attempts seem to be satisfactory. And there is no currently accepted theory as to why punctuated equilibrium occurs.

Explaining the Fossil Record 

Let me be clear. Gould and most evolutionary biologists believe that there is a purely naturalistic explanation for punctuated equilibrium. I do not.

Why? Because as a Computer Scientist, I am familiar with 'evolutionary algorithms' that attempt to simulate aspects of evolution. But unless programmers build (their own) intelligence into these algorithms, only minor changes are found. And the faster computers today operate at trillions of operations per second. I see no computer evidence that comes anywhere near showing that Neo-Darwinism can explain these rapid evolutionary changes.

What can? Think about the automotive industry. Modern cars started with the first internal-combustion-engine cars. Each year slight changes were made. And then a new model would come out that had major changes. But any major change (say involving the transmission) necessitated major changes in many parts of the car to work. This is how cars have evolved. Major changes in new models did not come about by small changes. There had to be many changes that were designed into any new model. And you can apply the same reasoning to virtually any device such as smart phones. 

And this seems very similar what the fossil record looks like. Insignificant changes over large periods of time, resulting in the the same species being around for large periods of time. And then large changes in a short period of time resulting in entirely new species.  

But who was responsible for the evolution of cars and smart phones? Human intelligence, of course.


So I've concluded that the evolution of life was also guided by an intelligence or intelligences. (The intelligences behind evolution had to be incredibly capable, but they do not appear to be 'perfect' because the fossil record does not show perfection in the evolution of life).

The hypothesis that the evolution of life was guided fits the fossil record, and fits with what we know about the weaknesses of evolutionary algorithms. So I believe that it is the best explanation as to how entirely new species occurred. This is a perfectly valid scientific hypothesis, because it can be falsified. 

And I am open to it being falsified. It would not change my worldview at all. My conclusion is based on the evidence. If evolutionary biologists come up with a plausible way that life could have evolved naturalistically, I will happily accept that.

My advice is, don't hold your breath waiting for it.


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. The views expressed herein are those of the author. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.


Tim Farage said...

I had an evolutionary biologist say about this post:

"This is one of the best commentaries I have ever seen on an evolution question, although we diverge a bit with the paragraph about "purely naturalistic causes". I consider intelligence to be natural, but not random accident, nor materially based, nor in any way explained by Darwinism. If it is a deity-type of universal intelligence, then I don't see why God is not natural.

People go along professing Darwin's gradualism, all the while mountains of evidence says the opposite."

And then he added this:

"New phenotypical features arise suddenly as needed, not gradually at all. These segments of the genotype (transposons) aren't even expressed until the information is full and complete."

I had heard about this before and should have included it. Basically, it says that many phenotypical features, such as a full set of teeth, appear in the fossil record without any fossils one would expect, such as those having one tooth, or some bony structures.

I read an entire book by an evolutionary biologist who spent years trying to determine how some animal (an alligator?) evolved its teeth. What he finally found is that the animal's genes were not expressed (the animal had no teeth) until it had developed a set of genes for a full mouth of teeth. This is not possible under any sort of Darwinian process, since natural selection could not possibly explain this.

The author of the book was very excited about his research. Near the end of the book, I was waiting to see how he would explain how these genes developed. But he said something like, "Of course, this does explain how these genes developed." And that was that.

Mikel Syn said...

I disagree. Humans had no guiding hand in the evolution of car design. At no point did a group of cavemen say "my end goal is a 4 wheeled Toyota Prius with cruise control, windscreen wipers, and headlights, so let's get started inventing the wheel." Humans were not the guiding principle; they were merely part of the selection mechanism. The evolution of cars has remained as unguided as biological evolution: small, incremental steps towards a vessel better suited to its environment.

Tim Farage said...

To say that "the evolution or cars has remained as unguided as biological evolution" means that you and I have a very different interpretation of the word 'unguided'. And I suspect that the designers of the Prius would strongly disagree that their design of the Prius was unguided!

Anonymous said...

I like this site - its so usefull and helpfull.

תלמידה בקורס המאפשרים said...

I completely agree with you
Can you refer me to some research and philosophucak material supporting your view
Arik , Psychologist

Tim Farage said...

Yes. Stephen Meyer wrote a wonderful book, called, "Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origen of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design"

Also, check out Prof. Paul Davies book, "Cosmic Jackpot: Why our Universe is Just Right for Life"

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