Friday, April 4, 2008

Darwin, the creator

I do not wish to grant the “theory” of creationism any serious attention, for it deserves none. A theory that simply points out the problems of another theory is not a theory, it’s a critique. A critique that does not explain, in detail, why the criticized theory is erroneous, does not have much merit. If simply saying: “No, I don’t think that’s how it happened’, should be considered serious scientific work, then we would have a lot more scientists in this world. Creationism does, however, function as a pretty good conversation starter. It points out the fact that classical Darwinism seems to be a rather unlikely scenario, given the amount of time and complexity involved. In my view, evolution cannot occur (and of course it is occurring as we speak) at the rate it has simply because of random fortuitous mutation, which is the main maxim of classical Darwinism. I would like to propose a few amendments to the classical theory of evolution. These amendments take into account the behaviors and experiences of an organism during its lifetime, as being critical to evolution.

What I am proposing is the following:

- behavior, experiences and actions taken during the lifetime of an organism influences the genes (and other hereditary components) of the offspring of the organism.

I must immediately point out that what I mean by “other hereditary components” is very important. Genes do not live in a vacuum, and I believe there are thousands of things other than a straight mutation of a specific gene that can cause changes in an organism that would amount an effect that is on par or greater for the organism than a mutation of a specific gene. This could include changes in interaction between genes, gene lifespan activity and many other things.

I believe the theory of Darwinism must be the starting point of the subject and that it is one of the most important discoveries ever made, but it must be built upon with modern ideas to make sense. Frankly, I think it is ridiculous to believe that millions of fortuitous one-in-a-million mutations (preceded by millions of unfortunate mutations) would have produced the highly adapted multitude of organisms that we have today.

It is certainly possible that there have been many fortuitous one-in-a-million mutations, but it does not make sense for that to be the driving force behind evolution. That would in my mind be like having an entire society depending on lottery winnings for their income. There must be a mechanism behind most mutations. I believe that bio-chemistry will be able to support this to a large degree in the future, but for now I would only like for you to consider two examples.

One of the most obvious examples of how a specific behavior can be inherited is what some scientists refer to as "hard-wiring". Usually they are talking about animals that know how to do something without ever having been trained to do it. Consider an eagle: the young bird
leaves the nest and starts a life of its own. In a couple of years it is time for the eagle to build its own nest and attempt to start a family of its own. It picks a tree or rock on which to build the nest, gathers material that is appropriate for the construction and builds the nest in a certain shape and with a certain technique. How does it do that? It has most likely never seen a nest being built or been instructed in any other way as to how to do it. To my knowledge, eagles do not have schools. It is hence "hard-wired" to do it. What scientists seem to neglect to discuss is how this "hard-wiring" came about. In my mind there is no other logical explanation than the occurrence of a trans-generational memory. Indeed, eagles must have used a lot of trial and error in learning how to build a good nest, and learning can change the biological make-up of the brain. Hence, at some point in the evolution of eagles, an eagle learned how to build a nest, and this changed the structure of the eagle’s brain slightly. This change must then have been recorded in its genes, in one way or another, and transferred to its offspring.

Another example comes from Scandinavia, and deals with another type of mutation. There are about five groups of people in the world who have developed a tolerance to lactose (meaning nearly all adults can drink a full glass of milk without ever getting a stomach ache as a result. All children in the world can tolerate it, but lose that ability before adolescence). All of those groups except for the Scandinavians have simply a tolerance to the substance, they cannot benefit from the nutrients.

However, the peoples of Scandinavia have stomachs that can fully benefit from tolerance to dairy products, due to a mutation that most likely took place around 5,000 years ago. People in Scandinavia were very dependant on cows, which they probably bred with local wild animals to make them more resilient to the climate. They probably became dependant on milk for their children due to the lack of sun (lack of vitamin D). Most likely, what started as giving children extra milk from cows, had the effect that a mutation occurred which made it so that children never lost the ability to process milk to begin with. Also, all the other peoples of the world who can tolerate milk as adults are herder peoples, such as the Massai and peoples in central Asia. So, these groups of people have one thing in common: the dependency on milk-producing animals, and, most likely, repeated attempts to benefit from that milk.

In other words, repeatedly drinking milk, out of necessity, created a need for milk tolerance. The body responded by creating more lactase (which can break down lactose in milk) due to a changed chemical environment for the body. Again, this change in production of lactase must have been recorded in the genes or elsewhere, so that a trans-generational milk tolerance occurred.

It seems almost obvious to the scientific community today that harmful behavior, experiences and environments can negatively affect one’s offspring. For instance, we know that a bad chemical environment can cause trans-generational damage to a baby (I’m not talking about what happens during the pregnancy, but before the pregnancy). Why should it then be that “positive” (whatever that is) behaviors, experiences and environments could not have a positive effect on one’s offspring? Or conversely, why could not negative experiences produce a positive result in the form of, for instance, tolerance to a harmful chemical environment?

It is my hope that the scientific community will bring more clarity on these issues in the near future. In order to properly connect the dots, I believe that more visionary thinking is needed.

I will conclude this essay with a funny and interesting story (if I may say so myself). After World War II, Australia occupied and managed some islands in Papua New Guinea. They attempted to educate the natives, and also convert them to christianity through missionaries. The natives were lukewarm about the idea of christianity, but nevertheless decided to give it a chance. They thought that the story of creation was particularly strange, and very different from what they had imagined before.

One day, one of the natives came upon a book that belonged to one of the missionaries. It was Charles Darwin's "Origin of the species". The natives looked in the book, and became furious. They realized that this must be what the white missionaries really believed (at this time, such science was not necissarily seen as heretical by the church). The natives told the missionaries: This is what you believe? That's what we have believed all along! It turned out that the natives' original religion described man's evolution as gradual a process that turned animal into man, and changed animals gradually to adapt to their environment.

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