On Life, Natural Selection, Evolution, Creation, and other topics

After reading a book by Erwin Schrodinger ‘What Is Life? Mind and Matter’ I made and shared several intentionally controversial comments, one in particular was about Darwin’s Natural Selection which I called nonsense. Result of that was a conversation with someone who argued in favor of it and of God. See for yourself.

But first, I would like to quote two neuroscientists, Emilio Beatsie and Robert Jimmy.

We’re beginning to understand something about the puppet and the strings but we have no idea whatsoever about the puppeteer what makes it happen.


Erwin Schrodinger ‘What Is Life? Mind and Matter’

Here are my comments.

The paper is worth reading. It has many naïve conclusions but there are some very interesting ideas in it too. Many people nowadays (such as students studying evolution) blindly repeat the same nonsense about chance mutations giving individual animals some advantage and favoring survival.

Interestingly, modern science brings back the Lamarckism as a correct theory as compared to Darwin’s natural selection. It is described in the epigenetics. Scientists, even as great as Schrodinger, have to be careful when they make such definitive statements as in the quote below. Always, without exception, they will be proven wrong.

Unhappily Lamarckism is untenable. The fundamental assumption on which it rests, namely, that acquired properties can be inherited, is wrong. To the best of our knowledge they cannot. The single steps of evolution are those spontaneous and fortuitous mutations which have nothing to do with the behavior of the individual during its lifetime.

Lamarck thought that the organ (a) is used, (b) is thus improved, and (c) the improvement is transmitted to the offspring. This is wrong. We have to think that the organ (a) undergoes chance variations, (b) the profitably used ones are accumulated or at least accentuated by selection, (c) this continues from generation to generation, the selected mutations constituting a lasting improvement.

Modern scientific understanding of the mechanisms of life already questions Darwin and his followers. Animals and plants are not selected and modified over long periods of time, change happens almost instantaneously and does not depend on ‘survivability of the fittest’. If interested, watch this talk on neuroaestethics that gives one example of many.

Is Schrodinger talking about autonomous cars here? Some of the thoughts that follow this paragraph are as if taken from Karl Marx.

Now I believe that the increasing mechanization and ‘stupidization’ of most manufacturing processes involve the serious danger of a general degeneration of our organ of intelligence. The more the chances in life of the clever and of the unresponsive worker are equaled out by the repression of handicraft and the spreading of tedious and boring work on the assembly line, the more will a good brain, clever hands and a sharp eye become superfluous.

Schrodinger on ethics:

Even without this last generalization, which to me is very important but may still seem rather dubious to others, the theory of consciousness that I have adumbrated seem to pave the way towards a scientific understanding of ethics.

At all epochs and with all peoples the background of every ethical code (Tugendlehre) to be taken seriously has been, and is, self-denial (Selbstüberwindung). The teaching of ethics always assumes the form of a demand, a challenge, of a ‘though shalt’, that is in some way opposed to our primitive will. Whence comes this peculiar contrast between the ‘I will’ and the ‘thou shalt’? Is it not absurd that I am supposed to suppress my primitive appetites, disown my true self, be different from what I really am? Indeed in our days, more perhaps than in others, we hear this demand often enough mocked at. ‘I am as I am, give room to my individuality! Free development to the desires that nature has planted in me! All the shalls that oppose me in this are nonsense, priests’ fraud. God is Nature, and Nature may be credited with having formed me as she wants me to be.’ Such slogans are heard occasionally. It is not easy to refute their plain and brutal obviousness. Kant’s imperative is avowedly irrational.

But fortunately the scientific foundation of these slogans is worm-eaten. Our insight into the ‘becoming’ (das Werden) of the organisms makes it easy to understand that our conscious life – I will not say shall be, but that it actually is necessarily a continued fight against our primitive ego.

On egoism, nationalism, politics and governance (I will question that ants and bees have no egoism, nobody knows):

For a solitary animal egoism is a virtue that tends to preserve and improve the species; in any kind of community it becomes a destructive vice. An animal that embarks on forming states without greatly restricting egoism will perish. Phylogenetically much older state-formers as the bees, ants and termites have given up egoism completely. However, its next stage, national egoism or briefly nationalism, is still in full swing with them. A worker bee that goes astray to the wrong hive is murdered without hesitation.

But luckily we are only men – and cowards.

It is interesting that Schrodinger veers into politics and societal problems here and does it very briefly. I will detract from Schrodinger here to quote several thoughts on nationalism and nation building.

James Dobbins, an ambassador and a Senior Fellow at Rand Corporation recently gave an educational talk at Dartmouth college on ‘Rise and Fall of American Nation Building. From Germany and Japan to Afghanistan and Iraq?’

Ambassador James Dobbins is a senior fellow and distinguished chair in Diplomacy and Security at the RAND Corporation. He has held State Department and White House posts including assistant secretary of State for Europe, special assistant to the president for the Western Hemisphere, special adviser to the president, secretary of State for the Balkans, and ambassador to the European Community. Dobbins has served on numerous crisis management and diplomatic troubleshooting assignments as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia for the administrations of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. In 2013 he returned to the State Department to become the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, returning to RAND in 2014. Dobbins is author of the memoir, Foreign Service: Five Decades on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy.

In it he gave a very frank assessment of the US foreign policy in the last three decades under different administrations with the comparison to post-WWII Germany and Japan. Those who read history will observe that this foreign policy has not changed in centuries, since Rome really, only players and countries did. What’s interesting, England used ‘democracy’ as justification in wars of the 19th century, for example in the 1850s war against Russia which is sometimes called as World War Zero. And of course, Napoleon used the same ‘Nation Building’ concept when he installed his cousins and brothers as the rulers of countries in Europe. Interestingly, Russia in the 19th century was nicknamed as the gendarme of Europe (reference below).

Frankly, all of this reminds the book by Jaroslav Hašek ‘The Good Soldier Švejk’. This is a satire on the WW1 100 years of which is celebrated now, the war which was also known as The war to end all wars.

People keep stepping on the same rakes…

War is the continuation of politics by other means.

‒ Carl von Clausewitz

There cannot be a firmly established political state unless there is a teaching body with definitely recognized principles. If the child is not taught from infancy that he ought to be a republican or a monarchist, a Catholic or a free-thinker, the state will not constitute a nation; it will rest on uncertain and shifting foundations; and it will be constantly exposed to disorder and change.

‒ Napoleon I, 1805

 

In 1860 French was still a foreign language to half of all French children. Outside major cities, France was a country of different languages, dialects and diverse currencies. Travel far outside one’s own village was rare, and indifference or hostility to the French state common. From the French Revolution and throughout the 19th century, French rulers expressed the imperative “to form French citizens”. Following the unification of Italy (1860), a process led by a Northern elite which then ruled the country, Massimo d’Azeglio (one of the founders of unified Italy) famously remarked: “Italy has been made; now it remains to make Italians.” In 1860 at most 10% of the Italian population spoke what would become the Italian language, there was only one railway line which crossed any of the pre-unification states, and many were openly hostile to the new nation.

 

In foreign policy, Nicholas I acted as the protector of ruling legitimism and as guardian against revolution. It has often been noticed that such policies were linked with the Metternich counter-revolutionary system through the Austrian ambassador Count Karl Ludwig von Ficquelmont. Nicholas’s offers to suppress revolution on the European continent, trying to follow the pattern set by his eldest brother, Tsar Alexander I, earned him the label of “gendarme of Europe”.

 

And is Man any the less destroying himself for all this boasted brain of his? Have you walked up and down upon the earth lately? I have; and I have examined Man’s wonderful inventions. And I tell you that in the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence and famine.

The peasant I tempt to-day eats and drinks what was eaten and drunk by the peasants of ten thousand years ago; and the house he lives in has not altered as much in a thousand centuries as the fashion of a lady’s bonnet in a score of weeks.

But when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanism that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies, and leaves the javelin, the arrow, the blowpipe of his fathers far behind.

‒ George Bernard Shaw

 

References related to Nation Building:


And here’s a response I received from one of my followers on my calling nonsense Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest. I thought others will benefit from this argument, many people think about life but few question what they are told by the authors of the books, religion, or science.

 

Argument:

Hey Alan, first thanks for sharing all these interesting articles. This one caught my eye. Maybe we should have a chat about this, if you’re interested. Since evolution, Darwin’s theory enhanced with modern genetics, embryology, and ecology, seems to be the mainstream in almost all scientific and educational forums, I will be interested to hear why you think it’s nonsense (if I understood you correctly).

Well let’s start with evolution, since it’s the most revolutionary idea that ever existed (only besides heliocentricity). And, it drove the widest wedge between religion and science. Did I understand you correctly when you said it’s complete non-sense? If so, I’d like you to tell me why. Maybe we can start with an outline before we delve into any detail. For example:

  1. The fact that the scientific community has almost a consensus on the issue (evolution taught in every school and university)
  2. The fact that evolution has penetrated every discipline (evolutionary psychology, medicine, neurology, etc.)
  3. The fact that the religious community in general has had such a weak rebuttal, often resorting to pseudo-science
  4. The fact that the proofs themselves are so numerous and being reinforced every day by discovery after discovery (fossil record, embryology, genetics, ecology, etc.)

Let me know how you wish to proceed.

 

Alan:

Here’s a good talk on the subject: ‘Evolution and Creationism as Science and Myth’ by Eugenie C. Scott. Evolution tells that cells can self-organize into different living shapes. In essence, all animals have the same internal architecture but assume various shapes. Why is self-organization possible?

Mathematics object survival of the fittest principle. There are many observations (wolves and deer on an island where population stabilizes for example). There are observations on populations of genetic mutations where humans (ancient in the caves) with severe deficiencies live and multiply (blind, deaf, without some bones, etc.).

Darwin assumes competition which is not always available. He assumes slow random mutations. Observations tell us that mutations happen virtually instantaneously and triggered by something we do not understand.

Darwin’s evolution may be important as an argument that God did not specially designed and create a human. But it is as if to say that there are stars and planets and they have the same internal principles that make them. Yes, we only know one type of life that can mutate into any geometrical shape that works. This is obvious.

Further, read about epigenetics. I have resources on my blog.

Do not believe all people who call themselves scientists. They themselves produce myths and religion, string theory is a good example.

Here’s one more article which I am not going to comment on except to say that he does not mention epigenetics which simplifies or makes author’s assumptions incorrect. Some of your questions and statements are addressed in the article, especially towards the end.

 

Argument:

I haven’t even started the conversation yet. I’m simply trying to determine where we differ so we can focus on what to discuss. But I’m not able to get that from you: where exactly do we differ on evolution? I haven’t told you what I’m thinking yet, so I’m not sure why you passing judgments already. I haven’t said I believe in all aspects of evolution. In fact, I’m struggling with that myself. I’m interested in talking with people who are looking for the truth. I’m not interested in someone who has made up their mind or follow some ideology or apologetics on either side (I have shut down many conversations like that). I’m not saying you’re like that, I’m just not comfortable with how this conversation is unfolding. You keep saying go to your blog (now you add consciousness which is another beast that no one seems to understand, I’m still struggling with Searle and Dennett).

 

Alan:

Likewise, you keep coming strong at me with the statements outlining and proving the theory of evolution. Let’s hear what you think, not what the scholars say.

We diverge as soon as you mention ‘natural selection’ and ‘survival of the fittest’.

And I point you to the research on the observation of the mutations, in which genes the mutations happen (only small % of the genes and on a fast time scale, not random, CRISPR already shows that cells repair changes that people force in the genes!!!), observations of incest and mutations that do not kill off carriers of bad mutations, etc. I point you to epigenetics and to other resources.

Let’s start with the creation. The following is in my article about conscience with multitude of references:

The argument of what or who designed the universe is pointless for the Creator had to be designed by someone else. If the Creator is not designed then the Creator is the universe – there is a recursive problem of creation.

The first conclusion from this then is that life and universe is one and the same and that life can take different shapes and forms and capabilities. There are some ideas where life is purely electric clouds in the emptiness of the interstellar void. This is possible.

Let’s discuss this and we can move one to the other problems.

If you want to connect us to Dawkins or to Degrasse Tyson I would be happy to have this conversation with them.

 

Argument:

I didn’t intend to come strong at you. Sorry if you felt that way. But you’re correct I was attempting to outline the theory of evolution. You know, we’re engineers. We like organization and order. But I wasn’t proving anything. At least not yet. That was not my intention.

If you want to hear what I think about evolution, I can give you a summary [we can save it for later if you don’t want to discuss it now]. Starting from the beginning. Fossil record seems to indicate progression of life from simple design to complex design (simple life forms at the bottom of the Earth layers and complex on top). However, science doesn’t seem to be able to explain the origin of life (i.e. what kick-started the whole process). Since many missing links have been found, it seems that speciation is also proven (one major form of life transforming to another). Check Neil Shubin’s book “Your Inner Fish” where he describes in detail the transition from fish to first amphibian and his beautiful discovery of the Tiktaalik. I think it gets most problematic when it comes to the story of human creation as that seems to collide with the account of Adam and Eve found in monotheistic religions. I may have some proposed answers but I feel you may not want to pursue such path. Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with natural selection itself. I have a problem with the philosophy around it. This is where I start having a problem with the Dawkins of the world. They think anytime we discover something, it takes away the mystery and hence the need for God. They strawman religion that way as they assume we believe in the God of the gaps [i.e. if you haven’t sensed it yet, I’m a theist]. I think the most science can do is prove that there is a process, an engine called Natural Selection. But they can’t disregard the fact that such engine could be guided by a higher being. Here we can insert all the details and disputes about Natural Selection from your emails/articles. But what’s also important is to study the implications of Natural Selection on the bigger questions, such as the one you proposed discussing next.

So onto the issue of CREATION. I don’t agree with the first premise that the Creator has to be designed by someone else. You might have heard of the argument from contingency. The Universe is a contingent thing because it can come and go, exist or not exist. So it must be caused by another type of existence that’s not contingent. The Universe owes its existence to a necessary being, an uncaused cause, an un-designed designer if you will. And that being we call God. If you say, let’s call it the Universe. Then how do you answer the problem of fine-tuning? Did the Universe fine-tune itself? I’ll stop here to see if this is the direction you want to go.

Oh and sorry. I don’t have access to Dawkins or Tyson. I’m not that well connected.

 

Alan:

I’ve read all those books about fishes and tried to discuss that with evolutionists and other scientists studying fossils, etc. but they usually became very angry when they could not argue or answer simple questions. A simple question is life forms at the thermal vents on the bottom of the ocean. Natural selection requires geographical isolation to ensure reproductive separation of species. Some species just clone the young, there is no mutation.

I will repeat what I’ve already said several times: Mutation is observed over very short periods of time triggered by something that we do not yet understand. It is not random!

Read Chomsky on this topic.

Either way, we cannot proceed in our discussion as I reject natural selection as a valid model. Not because of deity but because it does not explain anything and it is proven to produce incorrect conclusions that cannot explain many observations. All it says that a fish can mutate into a lion. Well, a scientist can then make an elephant give birth to a fly or vice versa by modifying genes of unborn yet animal. A scientist can just short-circuit those mutations because number of genes is finite. And it’s fine if that were the mechanism how life is engineered. But we find that there are other things that genes do not control as observed by studying twins for example. Also on my blog.

On God, you assume something infinite and unchanging in your description. This something can create universes. I short-circuit this to the universe as I see no need for this something below. We humans are given some senses to make sense of this universe. Our understanding is limited to these senses. There is more in the universe than what we can glean from our senses and the tools we create. We can imagine things like Gods. It is of no use to me as it has no practical purpose.

For example, a river fish that lives in murky waters is in essence a huge tongue, it has no other senses. It sees (literally tastes) this universe only by its local vibrations. It can conjecture about existence of God that gives it food and which lives outside of the dirty water. That’s us, humans. We have a few more senses, but that’s it.

So here we will get into a stalemate as well, that’s where we diverge.

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