Recently a high profile dissenter from a group maintaining its grip by smearing dissenters and dismissing all critics as “stupid, ignorant, insane or wicked” – has written a shocking, tell-all book. The dramatic exposé lays bare in painful detail the self-deception which saturates the group’s thinking, revealing its weird beliefs to an astonished public.
Although much of a cult’s belief system might fail to stand to reason, man himself is not basically a logical creature, remaining motivated by emotional attachments. This problem becomes painfully apparent to anyone trying to extricate themselves from abusive partners or groups.
Therefore the cult’s initial impact is bound to be an emotional one, offering an attractive worldview to individuals keen to embark on self-reform, and find new meaning to the timeless mysteries of life. But once inside, a line is eventually drawn forbidding the individual from re-engaging with society in any meaningful way. This boundary is not solely a product of the cult, but made possible by society’s mockery of the seeker’s spiritual urges, causing a yawning divide between two different cultures.
To avoid an unpleasant sense of internal discord, an individual is forced to commit, sooner or later, to one side or the other. He naturally associates the novel feelings of encouragement, sense of purpose, and internal nourishment with his new surroundings, in the same way a young lover attributes the intoxicating feeling of romantic fulfillment to their partner, instead of seeing them as a possibility inherent in every time or place; they quickly edit out any unpleasant characteristics and idealise an ordinary human being as their only possible match from a field of several hundred million – of whom they have evaluated perhaps two or three individuals in any depth.
As a result, they become immune to logic or any contraindications, and quite prepared to abandon the external world altogether if need be, to embark on a new life based on their own inner state of euphoria.
Once the imprinting process in the brain passes beyond a certain point, by a process of continual saturation, this idealised role actually becomes reality, and the individual becomes emotionally wedded for better, or worse.
The danger is not so much from any eccentric beliefs of the cult itself, which peple tend to outgrow after experience, but in the sudden absence of any sense of contrast and perspective, and the rejection of all criticism, which to a normal person are elements of a healthy life, and which any bond not based on jealous exclusivity can easily survive. The results of disappearing inside a closed environment are guaranteed to serve only the interests of the cult; by the time this becomes apparent it is usually too late, especially if all external ties are broken and the sole source of emotional sustenance is now the very organisation posing a threat to their existence as a distinct personality. The choice is then to either suppress one’s own self, or lose at a single stroke one’s entire support system.
Those who gather the mental energy to abandon cloistered, restrictive ways of thinking and maintain an internal state healthy enough to identify the incestuous nature of a cult should be admired for their courage, especially when their former friends publicly villify them.
Truth has a resilience and a curious property of enlarging itself in the face of attacks. By contrast, a cult manifests a highly defensive personality because it survives via denial, in a fantasy world which supports its fragile sense of self. Therefore, anyone wishing to make a public break will need a thick skin as well as a large amount of evidence to verify their claims.
Happily, both are the case with James A Shapiro, who recently released an excellent book dismissing the traditional Darwinian ideas of random mutations as utter nonsense, in the process providing no less than 1,162 separate references to support this accusation.
Shapiro is professor at the University of Chicago’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and a leading bacterial geneticist. According to the flap on the back of the book – normally an unfailingly impartial guide – he is also the discoverer of transposable elements in bacteria, and the key researcher involved in organising the field of mobile genetic elements.
“Most biologists agree that we are now in the systems biology era of research.. gone is the atomistic view that molecules act independently and automatically.” (p8).
The immensely complex mechanics of the very simplest of organisms, bacteria, are made clear while mercifully splicing the full details to separate appendices and online resources. Even a basic cell regulatory system, the control of sugar metabolisation, involves a colossal amount of precision machinery ( http://ptgmedia.pearsoncmg.com/imprint_downloads/informit/images/ftpress/9780132780933_01_Apps-Parts-I-II.pdf ) but the book is written in such a way that the overall significance of these highly referenced mechanisms is convincingly explained.
The different approach this book takes is tantamount to showing someone a working copy of Microsoft Excel, rather than, as many writers do, walking them line by line through five hundred yards of densely typed assembler code to impress upon them the complexity at stake. In the process, the reader is taken on a journey to a world of sentience whose very existence, thanks to the efforts of the Darwinian clergy, he never suspected possible.
Proteins are explained as conditional microprocessors and not randomly produced floating flukes; every protein has the capacity to record interactions by altering its conformation and thereby behaving differently, depending on interactivity with other proteins or molecules.
“The fact that cells actively maintain genome integroty during normal growth ios a key aspectof cell control over its major information storage organelle.
As more than five decades of research have established, DNA proofreading and repair systems are central to the yin and yang of cell management of genome structure: conservation in times of successful growth as compared to active restructuring in times of stress. Intracellular sensory processes are key to both complementary aspects of genome maintenance.” (p12)
Shapiro explains the machinery devoted to maintaining an incredible accurancy within DNA copying. In fact less than one error per billion is the norm, thanks to an ingenious system of processes which copy at the highest possible speed, with errors being sensed and repaired by secondary systems highly sensitive to the desired curvature and alignment of the DNA helix. As readers of this blog know, the codon mapping to amino acids is already the strongest out of a staggering number of possibilities, as regards tolerance to errors. Therefore even if errors slip through this collection of quality controllers, they tend to have a negligible effect when the concentric mapping of amino acid type to codons is taken into account.
Shapiro uses a fascinating example of pheromone response in S. cerevisiae mating to show:
“we cannot consider the genome in any way isolated from the outside world; it is a fully informed cell organelle that works dynamically in response to a wide range of organic and inorganic inputs..
this distinct perspective treats the genome as a read-write memory system subject to nonrandom change by dedicated cell functions.” (p22, p27)
One by one the dogmas of the original church are dismantled, including Crick’s fundamental belief that “the discovery of just one type of present day cell which could carry out any of the three unknown transfers (protein -> DNA, protein -> RNA, protein -> protein) would shake the whole basis of molecular biology.” (p25) Shapiro produces examples of all of these kinds of transfers and the specific experiments which verified them, some of which, alarmingly, have been common knowledge for decades.
The only possible conclusion is that evolutionary biologists as a public-facing group have maintained and encouraged disinterest in whatever contradicts their original premises, discarding compelling new evidence in favour of what has now become outdated 19th century superstition.
“We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality”(..Eric Bapteste, evolutionary biologist, Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris)
“The tree-of-life concept was absolutely central to Darwin’s thinking, equal in importance to natural selection. Without it the theory of evolution would never have happened.”
(..W. Ford Doolittle, biologist, Dalhousie University, Halifax)
“We’ve just annihilated the tree of life. It’s not a tree any more, it’s a different topology entirely. It is clear that the Darwinian tree is no longer an adequate description of how evolution in general works.”
(..Biologist Michael Syvanen, University of California)
“The tree of life is politely buried, we all know that. What’s less accepted is that our whole fundamental view of biology needs to change.. biology is vastly more complex than we thought.”
(..Michael Rose, evolutionary biologist, University of California)
Far from being a random house of errors, Shapiro reveals the genome to be a marvellously precise read-write storage system, which maintains cassettes of 3-d mechanical solutions stored in DNA’s 2-d form ready to be implemented (as for example in bacterial resistance to antibiotics) and, amazingly, passed to other bacteria to confer immunity.
The effect of horizontal transfer in ages past is not known, since tracing those elements through the DNA is only infallible under laboratory conditions. But we have no reason to assume it is a recent development, and ever wary of those prone to cultish superstitions, Shapiro provides a table listing many known instances of horizontal genetic transfer.
Alarmingly, this transfer process was known about decades ago from bacterial experiments showing firstly that random mutations must be a theoretical abstraction without any validity in the problem-solving environment of real life as the stressed bacteria immediately went to work on their own genomes, and even more amazingly, that heredity was not an exclusively vertical matter from sire to son, but one which happened immediately from peer to peer by the transfer of ingenious genetic solutions.
Thus the two essential planks of Darwinism have long been discredited – a fact conveniently ignored or covered up by celebrity spokesmen or dogmatic priests who seem to have no interest in research emerging from their own field.
“The absurdity of random mutations becomes apparent when one asks, “how do these repeated signals distribute themselves within and throughout the genome?
If alterations in DNA molecules occur randomly the problem of distributing genomic formatting elements and larger complexies composed of several elements becomes extraordinarily difficult, if only in finding the time needed for so many chance events to occur.
For instance, note the presence of over three million dispersed repeat elements in the human genome.” (p43)
But even more to the point, the concept of the gene as a handy metaphor to convey the idea of something which encodes a mechanical purpose, and therefore has an influence which can be encapsulated and accelerated as required, comes in for criticism.
“..when ‘gene’ is used to indicate a continuous human DNA sequence encoding a specific protein, it actually means something that has no real existence in nature. This is because the genomic DNA coding regions usally comprise several separated exons and are only joined at the level of the RNA transcript.
In place of ‘gene’, therefore, the term coding sequence indicates DNA regions that determine protein primary structure.. the term ‘genetic locus’ is preferable because it indicates a discrete identifiable region of the genome, including signals foprmatting transcription and post-transcriptional processing, that encodes one or more messenger RNA molecules, which in turn encode one or more specific protein products.” (p30)
The all-important “gene”, despite being pointed to as the basic arbiter of what is produced via the ribosome and selected or not selected by prevailing conditions a dozen orders of magnitude larger, relies on a precision-based combinatory mechanism that is necessarily more fundamental than the gene itself.
“A little thought will make it clear how difficult it is to maintain the traditional idea that each individual component of these elaborate circuits evolves by making its own independent random walk through the enormous space of genome sequence possibilities.” (p31)“If worms have the power of acquiring some notion, however rude, of the shape of an object over their burrows, as seems the case, they deserve to be called intelligent; for they act in nearly the same manner as would man under similar circumstances.” Charles Darwin (Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms)…
The thrust of the book is that cells continually use natural genetic engineering to modify themselves in response to external stimuli, specifically threats and adverse circumstances. The author is clearly an admirer of the pioneering work of Barbara McClintock in the 1940’s; McClintock came under fire by daring to oppose official dogma, and while this defensive hostility gradually abated during her lifetime, the full lessons of her research might still be resisted because, as Shapiro points out, evolutionary biologists seem far more interested in the grandiose scheme of explaining away all life on the planet as subservient to their theories, than in taking note of what actually happens under their noses.
One fasincating observation is that the activity of DNA transposons (mobile components which trigger changes in the organism’s biological functions) in animals “is often restricted to germline cells, where it will be of greatest evolutionary impact”: in other words, the changes are stored so that the progeny emerges as a redesigned entity, superior to, and at variance with, its parents.
“It is important to note that selection has never led to formation of a new species, as Darwin postulated. No matter how morphologically and behaviourally different they become, all dogs remain members of the same species, are capable of interbreeding [only] with other dogs, and will revert in a few generations to a common feral dog phenotype if allowed to go wild.” (p121)
Although there is some resistance to Shapiro’s ideas of horizontal gene transfer and recombination of genetic elements, he dismisses such resistance alarmingly easily – after all, the mating of a sperm cell with the female egg is an example of exactly this process of recombination, one accepted – in a slightly different context – as a fundamental process in the formation of new life.
All this discussion about the intricacies of evolution would hardly matter if evolution itself were a coffee table subject, suited to armchair experts and ivory tower intellectuals. In fact, the situation now is that bacteria are re-engineering their genome at a rate vastly in excess of the rate at which entrenched evolutionary biologists change their own ways of thought. To hear some of them talk, it’s as if change itself is the enemy.
This is unacceptable to a growing number of dissenters who want to see progress, and not dogma, since devising solutions first requires one to admit the nature of the problem, and not continually rely on the guesswork of a 19th century naturalist – which he freely admitted could well be full of holes – as inviolable. Panicky biologists have refused to step up to the plate, perhaps fearing the loss of hard-won high ground to the fanatical young Earth creationist.
Whether too incompetent or too fearful to tackle the real problem, the field has had to accept input from another wave of scientists, namely the physicists – from my own experience of them, the kind of mind which gladly accepts infinity as a part of life:
“..they bring with them a much-needed and fruitful sophistication in observation at the micro level, in mathematical formalisation of results, and in computational methods of data analysis.
Physicists-turned-biologists have the additional advantage of lacking a formal education in the life sciences; consequently, they have not been taught to exclude from their thinking notions previously concluded to be impossible.” (p146)
It is a terrible indictment of any field that its own education actually prevents progress: this, if anything, is a description of cult thinking. Eventually it is the outside world which provides the much-needed fresh air to move on: thus does evolution find a way, forcefully washing away the protests and skilfully bypassing the dissenters.
Altogether, this book is probably the most exciting read imaginable, coming from the depths of scientific research. For anyone who values independent thought, or who values minds that really do follow the evidence, or who admires one who breaks from antique dogma and superstition, this book will be a revelation.
Buy it, borrow it, but read it soon – Darwin would have welcomed it.
The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1899), 218.
..Professor Agassiz on the Darwinian Theory … Interesting Facsimile Letter from the Great Naturalist’, Scientific American, 1874, 30, 85.