A Plea to Scientists!

There are many scientists who read and comment on this blog, for which I am, and my other readers are, I am sure, very grateful.  So I have a plea which I hope will find fertile ground.

Evolution, as we all know, is a process by which biology changes over time.  It is always referred to as proceeding from the simple to the complex, and that is a little misleading, as  it implies that the simplest forms of life – perhaps judged simple in intelligence, or motivation, in range of movement, or because of their humble size – are biologically simple.  Evolution is, after all a biological process.

So, saying we know it proceeds from the simple to the complex doesn’t fit with the facts: should we not say, it proceeds from the highly complex to the staggeringly complex, or at the very least from the complex to the highly complex.

The simplest form of life we know of today is the humble bacteria.  Its motivations are straightforward, its size is minuscule, its lifespan and range of movment are limited and its cellular arrangment is basic – one cell.  But we don’t have factual evidence of any life form simpler than this.  We can suppose it, we can imagine it, we can theorise it, we can assume it, we can demand that the idea be declared mandatory and taught in schools, we can even openly admit that we intuitively propose it, but science prides itself on being based on facts, not suppositions, imaginings, demands for acceptance in the absence of proof, or intuitive assumptions: scientific readers always remind me of this. Today I was told that intuition must play no part in science; I argued otherwise, but perhaps I am wrong.

So, since we have no factual proof of a simpler life form than the bacteria – that is, no fossils, no living fossils, no laboratory specimens of our own creation validating our theories, and no traces at all that we can point to – we are bound to say, life on Earth evolved, as far as we can prove now – based only on facts – from the highly complex to the staggeringly complex, or at the very least, from complex to the highly complex.  The rest we can fairly say: assume as you see fit pending laboratory proof.

Of course, we can project a line from the bacteria backwards to simpler forms – just as we can extrapolate a line from humanity to Divinity, as I often do, and am then (perhaps fairly) accused of being far fetched and fanciful in so doing – and of course, we might well imagine that such forms exist, because logically these bacteria had to come from somewhere.  To blithely say they came from outer space is to shift the problem out of reach, and now the credibility becomes more convoluted as we are safe to shape the origin in any imaginary form, no matter how fantastic, since nobody is likely to travel to the distant corners of the Universe simply to contradict us.

We have fossil proof of the dinosaurs along with their age and progressions, as also many of the earliest vegetation, so we are at liberty to talk about these as genuine entities all we want.  And one day we may have factual proof of the proposed simpler-than-bacteria entity, whatever it may have been, but today if we are basing our science on facts, should we not draw the line at what we can strictly prove – lest we be accused of letting assumptions, imaginings, preferences, and wishful thinking be labelled science and thereby throw all our other conclusions into disrepute?

Coming next: Nature’s Chainsaws!

This illustration shows a cross-section of a small portion of an Escherichia coli cell. The cell wall, with two concentric membranes studded with transmembrane proteins, is shown in green. A large flagellar motor crosses the entire wall, turning the flagellum that extends upwards from the surface. The cytoplasmic area is colored blue and purple. The large purple molecules are ribosomes and the small, L-shaped maroon molecules are tRNA, and the white strands are mRNA. Enzymes are shown in blue. The nucleoid region is shown in yellow and orange, with the long DNA circle shown in yellow, wrapped around HU protein (bacterial nucleosomes). In the center of the nucleoid region shown here, you might find a replication fork, with DNA polymerase (in red-orange) replicating new DNA. © David S. Goodsell 1999.

About iain carstairs

I have a great interest in both scientific advances and the beauty of religion, and created www.scienceandreligion.com about 15 years ago with the aim of finding common ground between the scientist and the believer, and to encourage debate between the two sides.
This entry was posted in Biology, Designs in nature, Evolution and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A Plea to Scientists!

  1. donsalmon says:

    nice post! I thought this might be helpful (this is from our book, “Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness: Seeing Through the Eyes of infinity”

    Scientists… have conducted some interesting experiments that seem to suggest something is occurring beyond purely random mutation. Biologist John Campbell claims to have detected environmental sensors in bacteria “which can feed back to the activity and organization of the genes,” directing a reprogramming of the whole genetic system. Biologist Barry Hall has carried out rather remarkable experiments with the intestinal bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli). As described by scientific theorist Howard Bloom, Hall placed the bacteria in a solution of salicin – a pain-reliever “squeezed from the bark of willow trees which, to the E. coli bacterium, is inedible as pitch. An individual bacterium can crank nourishment out of this unpalatable medication only if it undergoes a step-by-step sequence of two genetic breakthroughs, none of which entails making a giant step backward. The odds of pulling this off through random mutation are less than 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 – or, to put it in English, more than 10 billion trillion against one.”

    Physicist Eshel Ben-Jacob used insights from the mathematics of materials science to study what he felt were learning patterns in colonies of bacteria. Summarizing Ben-Jacob’s conclusions, Bloom writes, “A ‘creative net’ of bacteria, unlike a man-made machine, can invent a new instruction set with which to beat an unfamiliar challenge. Some colony members feel out the new environment, learning all they can. Others ‘puzzle’ over the genome like race-car designers tinkering with an engine whose power they are determined to increase. Yet others collect the incoming ‘ideas’ passed along by their sisters and work together to alter the use of existing genetic parts or to turn them into something new.” One bacteria colony can even learn from others, by means of which, according to Ben-Jacob, it “designs and constructs a new and more advanced genome” thus “performing a genomic leap.”

    These experiments go beyond philosophic argument to provide empirical data from which some may infer the working of conscious intelligence of some kind. However, again, none of the methods used in these experiments provide direct evidence of consciousness at work. [NOTE: In the appendix to our book, we offer some methods, based on yogic practices, for conducting biological research in a way that provides direct evidence of consciousness affecting the course of evolution; the section of the book quoted above was intended to be metaphysically neutral in order to avoid offending members of the materialist faith]

    • Exciting stuff – even if the evidence may be waved away by the Guardians of Randomese I want to post this as separate item in its own right, and maybe find some images, molecular diagrams, anything – it sounds fantastic. I better get hold of that book

      • donsalmon says:

        take a look at the excerpts over at integralworld.net. Click on “Reading room” and search for “Salmon.” You’ll find a series called “Trimming Ken Wilber’s Evolutionary Theory With Ockham’s Razor’. You might find some good excerpts there on the workings of intelligence in evolution.

        By the way – I don’t know if this is the right place to ask you – you get some truly remarkable pictures and diagrams. Do you just find them off the net or do you have a “source” of some kind? Since you’re not a commercial site, I suppose you don’t have to worry about “fair use”, or do you? We were hoping to use 10-20 second excerpts from movies also, but I’ve been having a hard time getting a clear understanding of “fair use” – I know what is allowed in quoting books and poetry but the rules for posting copies of photos and videos are quite confusing to me.

  2. donsalmon says:

    oh, the other thing is daniel Siegel and David Shenk (“The Genius in all of us”) on epigenetics. It seems to me that epigenetics is even more important than neuroplasticity in overturning conventional materialist ideas of evolution. Even Jerry Coyne – arch Darwinian – now concedes direction in evolution (toward greater complexity – overall direction, that is ) and concedes that “epigenetically induced” changes can get passed on for at least several generations, though he saves face by claiming (ludicrously, I think) that after that they die out and we’re back with rigid genetic determinism again.

    I think that this will be overcome in a decade or so, at which point a wholly new, understanding of evolution as driven primarily by what Sri Aurobindo refers to as the “aspiration” of the involved or hidden consciousness to unfold, to emerge, at ever greater levels of complexity. As he says somewhere in The Life Divine, once you look at the evolutionary process with a receptive mind, and you look at this aspect of consciousness increasing in complexity, the whole thing is so obvious it’s simply impossible to deny.

    it takes time (funeral, by funeral, as Bohr (??) once said. I think it was Bohr)

  3. I love images – whatever I see I always save it somewhere. With David Goodsell’s stuff, I came across it by accident and contacted him, and he helpfully pointed me to an even better source. I take some from the Science Photo Library and I joined their membership, but to get the hi res photos with no watermarks costs £50 apiece, or something like that, so it didn’t seem worth it, especially because you want the lower res images to speed the pages up! There’s a book called Inside The Body which uses only images from the SPL, along with text explaining what’s going on. It’s a beautiful book; one of the first to really explore the body technology as a thing of beauty. It’s extraordinary, absolutely inspiring. I gave a copy to my dad, who was a medical scientist, dating back to the days when he played darts with Watson and Crick (so he said!) and even he was amazed.

    I think if you credit the images, and go to the trouble of linking to the original creator, you do them a favour, which they appreciate. Sometimes they have books out, and I like to go and buy them, and plug those too. I’m not trying to make a living but I understand that they are. Many of the hits come from image searching engines, so if you have images, you attract way more readers.

    As for the Darwinners, you’re right! Listening to sane men describe perfectly functioning technology, building itself on a level of speed and accuracy which we can’t even grasp, never mind duplicate, as a trifle not even worth explaining other than to wave the hand and sigh, “read my lips – evolution, stupid” is becoming embarrassing now. It’s getting old! Atheism serves a useful function in accelerating the spiritual into the field of biology, and giving a valid starting point for those not interested in ancient forms of religion, but the hardliners seem to be mentally crippled in some way. If they saw such a machine in a workshop they would be impressed, overawed, fascinated, appreciative, curious, even stunned into silence.

    But they see it under a microscope and smugly talk of it like the dirt on their shoe. It’s a serious flaw; in the decades to come, the issue of God would still be an open debate, but this dismissal of nanotech is bound to be the most embarrassing thing materialists have to live down. There isn’t really any excuse for it – they should really start to distance themselves from it or their names, for all their good work, will be ridiculed like Nero’s!

  4. biochemist says:

    It is very likely that not bacteria, but archeae are the oldest phylogenetic clade.

    • Interesting, thanks – though my point is the same: still apparently a very complex organism – aparently at least 500 genes, and between half a million and 5.7m base pairs, transcription machinery and of course self copying machinery. My point is that the first life form we know about is very complex, whether that be archeae, bacteria or Spongebob Squarepants

  5. donsalmon says:

    Hi folks – not directly on topic but I think this will be of interest to readers of this blog. I just heard about an extraordinary book, “The Elephant Whisperer.” You can read excerpts here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Elephant-Whisperer/dp/0283070870 In the short intro that Amazon provides, you can see that the author shares the view of many on this site that the consciousness of animals – and even plants – is far beyond anything our current science can comprehend.

    The author recently died. he had cared for many elephants over the years, but for the last year and a half of his life had not seen most of them. No human being made any attempt to “contact’ the elephants when the author died, but somehow – nobody knows how – elephants came from many miles away and spent two weeks in mourning, honoring the memory of the man they loved so deeply.

    • Thanks for contributing this – I’d like to get that book! Knowing how animals have a sixth sense which tells them when their loved ones are coming home, and also alerts them to the deaths of their owners, the elephants’ behaviour seems perfectly natural. In fact it would probably be impossible for animals to function in the wild without this kind of sense.

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