Origin of Complex Order in Biology:
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It is an every day experience that all kinds of order have the tendency to disperse. Books, marbles and tools are only seldom at places we expect them to be! Keeping a certain level of order requires our attention, time and energy. This tendency of order corruption is very general, it holds for our desk as well as for nearly every aspect of life. In physics this tendency has been formulated as a fundamental law of nature: the second law of thermodynamics. Consequently, the origin, existence and maintenance of order requires an explanation, a cause. Modern representations of cosmology and evolution, however, often try to reduce the appearance of order to trivialities. Only a simple origin allows a "creation" without a creator. If, however, the order in our universe is substantially complex from the very beginning, the a priori existence of a Creator" becomes likely.
Three possible sources of the origin of order are generally considered: accidents, order as a necessary constituent, and order as the result of a willful design. Keith Ward describes these three kinds of explanations: "There are three main possible answers to these questions. One is that there is simply no explanation. The universe just came into existence by chance, for no reason, and that is that. Another is that it all happened by necessity. There was no alternative. A third is that the universe is created by God for a particular purpose." (Ward, 1996) In modern biology a combination of chance and necessity (Mayr, 1982; Monod, 1970) is proposed as some kind of forth alternative. A purely accidental origin of order in nature is generally rejected. There were several schools of thought proposing that the order in nature results as a necessary outcome of the laws of nature: for the mechanists order was the necessary outcome of the laws of motion; the adherents of orthogenetic evolution consider evolution as the result of a final goal inherent in nature. For the natural theologians nature was the obvious result of the Creator's willful design. In modern biology natural selection combining chance and necessity (Monod, 1970) is considered to be the source of biological order, Dennett (Dennett, 1995) even proposes the extension of this principle to the creation of the complete order in our universe.
If those chains of explanations have always to refer to a previous or more general cause where does an explanation start? The origin, the possible starting points for both kinds of regression has been studied throughout human history. Early answers for such questions are found in the ancient creation myths. The greeks addressed this problem by rational means. That a regression cannot extend to infinity was postulated by Aristotle. In a letter to the Swiss scientist Auguste Forel `Abdu'l-Bahá uses this kind of argument:
As we, however, reflect with broad minds upon this infinite universe, we observe that motion without a motive force, and an effect without a cause are both impossible; that every being hath come to exist under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences... Such process of causation goes on, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him who is the Ever-Living, the All-Powerful, who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1984, p. 76)Here `Abdu'l-Bahá considers the alternative of necessary cause and willful design. /2/ The latter is presented as a kind of meta-cause with the ability to create new chains of causation without requiring a predecessor. This proof of the infinite regression for the existence of the Will of God is based on Aristotle's dictum in Metaphysics II.2 that causes are finite both in series and kind, and that in a series there must be a first cause. /3/ For Aristotle the regression automatically leads to the existence of an uncaused reality, because an infinite regression makes no sense. /4/
Of course, by stating the need for an explanation one implicitly assumes that such an explanation exists. All natural sciences depend essentially on such an assumption. Science would make no sense in a reality which has not a structure allowing for explanations, for a clear relation between cause and effect. For instance the writings of the Bahá'í Faith postulate such kind of reality. Many arguments in the Bahá'í writings about philosophical topics are based on a general application of the principle of cause and effect. The relevance of such a principle is repeatedly emphasized in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. In the Lawh-i Hikmát Bahá'u'lláh states:
Every thing must needs have an origin and every building a builder... Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise. (Bahá'u'lláh, 1988, 9:12 and 14)A cause and effect relation is stated in this passage by claiming an "origin" for "every thing" and a "builder" for "every building." Such cause and effect relations are not only applied to individual instances, e.g. the sun as the cause and its rays as the effect, but used on a general level. "God's Will" is stated to be the general cause of our universe (i.e., the effect). "Nature" is considered to be the effect of the creative force of God's name "the Creator" and the expression of God's Will "in and through the contingent world." Similar statements are also found in the writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá: "Every cause is followed by an effect and vice versa; there could be no effect without a cause preceding it." (PUP p. 307) According to this statement every effect requires a cause, nothing may happen without a cause. A substantially complex outcome requires a respectably complex origin. This argument is analogous to the second law of thermodynamics. /5/ Only disorder occurs on its own, complex order needs a non-trivial origin.
Now the three causes, mentioned above, are reconsidered, and their explanatory power is analyzed: (1) necessary cause, (2) accidental cause, and (3) voluntary design. Necessary causes can be considered as intermediate steps, they shift the problem of an explanation to a meta-level. /6/ If one searches for a "first necessary cause" this kind of explanation leads to the infinite regression. Only accidental cause and willful design are considered as "first causes", as being able to initiate a chain of causes. But there is an important difference between chance and voluntary design: chance, on the one hand, is based on triviality, it comes from nothing, it leads to nothing, it does not require any further explanation, it is a cause practically without a cause. Design, on the other hand, involves complexity from the very beginning.
One can distinguish two kinds of order: (1) regular patterns as in crystals, and (2) meaningful messages as in a text (e.g., hopefully this essay). The first kind of order is that of physics, its measure is entropy. It is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. /7/ The second kind of order depends of the specific context. Here not the order of the letters as such is important but the message those letters convey. Outside the specific context the order becomes meaningless. A sanscrit or arabic text would contain not much information for most Europeans. The entropy measure does not apply for such kind of order. /8/
A possible measure of complex order is the degree by which a system deviates from randomness. A repetitive pattern for instance deviates from randomness. The design of functional watches as well as the precise amino acids sequence of an efficient enzyme represents also a clear deviation from randomness. Something showing all signs of good design we would consider not to be produced accidentally. Accordingly, Dawkins defines complex order:
... a complex thing is something whose constituent parts are arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone... The minimum requirement for us to recognize an object as an animal or plant is that it is should succeed in making a living of some sort (more precisely that it, or at least some members of its kind, should live long enough to reproduce)... The answer we have arrived at is that complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone. (Dawkins, 1986, p. 7 and 9)Dawkins here uses probability and functionality as criteria to define complex biological order. According to this understanding, something is complex if it is functional and the probability to form it by chance alone is so small that its occurrence is unlikely during the existence of our universe.
`Abdu'l-Bahá presents a very similar definition of complex order. But like Paley `Abdu'l-Bahá concludes from the deviation of randomness that complex order must be the result of design:
Likewise every arrangement and formation that is not perfect in its order we designate as accidental, and that which is orderly, regular, perfect in its relations and every part of which is in its proper place and is the essential requisite of the other constituent parts, this we call a composition formed through will and knowledge. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1984, p. 78)Proper design constitutes a clear deviation from randomness. Because an accidental formation of such order is highly improbable, chance cannot explain complex order. The major difference between modern and classical explanations is that modern theories often try to ground the order in trivialities whereas classical concepts often base on willful design.
Systems almost always have the peculiarity that the characteristics of the whole cannot (not even in theory) be deduced from the most complete knowledge of the components, taken separately or in other partial combinations. The appearance of new characteristics in wholes has been designated as emergence. Emergence has often been invoked in attempts to explain such difficult phenomena as life, mind, and consciousness. Actually, emergence is equally characteristic of inorganic systems. (Mayr, 1982, p. 63)Today two major positions are uphold about the origin of the genetic information, of how the "knowledge" to form wings and eyes evolves. In positions, assuming ad hoc origination of order as for instance proposed by Monod (Monod, 1970), the information emerges, it is created de novo on the path of evolution. In more essentialistic positions, related to Plato's ideas, the information is considered to be implicitly hidden in the laws of nature and only "awaits" its unfolding. Emergent properties in this second view are the consequence of nonlinear interaction within complex systems. This position is often assumed by mathematical evolution biologists.
To discuss ad hoc origins of order and unfolding of inherent potentials it is helpful to introduce the distinction between potential and actual order. Actual order is the order we actually see around us; human artifacts such as houses, cars, book, and all kinds of biological organisms populating this planet. The complexity of organisms generally exceed several orders or magnitude the complexity of human artifacts.
A good example of potential order is the plan of a house designed by the architect. The workers than transform the potential order of the plan by skillfully assembling bricks, mortar, and the other necessary materials into the actual order of the house. A similar process takes place during the growth of fertilized egg cells. The original cell starts to repeatedly divide itself. The daughter cells than specialize and organize according to the genetic plan. In this case, the potential order encoded in the assembly of genes from the sperm and the egg cell, is transformed into the actual order of the organism. Other kinds of potential order are those directly implied by the laws of nature. If salt (sodium chloride) is dissolved in water and the water evaporates again, salt crystals are formed always according to the same pattern. These reproducible pattern result from the characteristic chemical interactions between sodium and chlor atoms.
An intermediate example between inanimate order, as found for instance in sodium chloride crystals, and biological order is the folding pattern of proteins. Water soluble proteins generally unfold above a certain melting temperature. They often refold automatically below this temperature. Here the folding pattern is uniquely defined by the sequence and chemical properties of the amino acids. The rules of protein folding are not yet well understood (Karplus and Sali, 1995; von Kitzing and Schmitt, 1995). The fact that those proteins always adopt the same folding pattern is taken as evidence that the folding is determined by some kind of potential order encoded in the chemical and physical properties of the constituting amino acids.
Interestingly, the discussion about biological evolution which arouse in the occident during the 19th century has strong parallels with the dispute between Aristotle and Plato. In physics, chemistry and classical biology, the essentialistic view dominated. The unchangeable objects in these fields were thought to be defined by their respective essences. In biology it became increasingly obvious that the world was much older than expected from the genesis and that the populations of organisms drastically changed throughout history. Thus, the classical dispute whether the actual order is sufficient to maintain order or whether a timeless potential reality is required behind all existing things, arouse again. But this time it took place on a more general level by including the time dimension, by extending it to the question of biological evolution.
The findings in palaeontology reveal a substantially evolving biosphere. Species suddenly appear in the fossil records and later cease to show up. The flora and fauna 100 million years ago was very different from that what we find today. Early essentialistic interpretations of this situation assumed that God replaced those extinct earlier species, to maintain the overall harmony, by newer ones via anew creations. Even in these socalled saltational evolution concepts the biological populations of interbreeding individuals were thought to be bound by their respective newly created species essences.
Darwin and later the proponents of neo-Darwinism rejected the existence of species essences. The existence of a number of individual representatives of a species are considered to be sufficient to maintain the species. The gene pool common to an interbreeding population contains all necessary information to maintain the respective species. So far the neo-Darwinistic species concept is similar to that of Aristotle's that the existing population is sufficient to maintain and reproduce the species. In neo-Darwinism, in contrast to Aristotle, mutations and recombinations within the genome result in a variability of the genotypes. Overreproduction, always more offsprings are born than can survive, enforces the lesser qualified phenotypes to get eliminated by natural selection. Because there seems to be no species which keeps the genome constant, no mechanism to bind RNA or DNA sequences to some ideal sequence, the genome drifts in the sequence space and gradually cumulates adaptions to the actual environment. In this dynamic aspect, modern species concepts deviate fundamentally from that of Aristotle.
Today the situation in cosmology is fundamentally different. The universe is considered to be finite in space and time. Thus, both kinds of regression, the temporal and hierarchical ones, have to be solved. Particularly in cosmology, modern materialistic authors try to ground the regression in an apparent self-evidence, claiming that complex order emerges from a trivial self-evident structure of matter:
... there is nothing that cannot be understood, that there is nothing that cannot be explained, and that everything is extraordinarily simple... A great deal of the universe does not need any explanation. Elephants, for instance. Once molecules have learned to compete and to create other molecules in their own image, elephants, and thing resembling elephants, will in due course be found roaming through the countryside. (Atkins, 1981)or to a "non-linear transformation of the void" (Krueger, 1984). In those concepts the structure of our universe is reduced to an apparently self evident level. Ward (Ward, 1996) shows that the fundamental assumptions of Atkin's are purely based on faith, neither on facts, nor on science. Wheeler proposes a trivial origin of the universe as a result of "the boundary of boundary is zero":
So far as we can see today, the laws of physics cannot have existed from everlasting to everlasting. They must have come into being at the big bang. There were no gears and pinions, no Swiss watchmakers to put things together, not even a pre-existing plan... Only a principle of organization which is no organization at all would seem to offer itself. In all of mathematics, nothing of this kind more obviously offers itself than the principle that "the boundary of boundary is zero." (Wheeler, 1989)Here Wheeler refers to the fact that fundamental laws in physics are often formulated or can be transformed into conservation laws: e.g., the conservation of energy, the conservation of electric charge, etc. These laws may be given in the form, that the change of the total energy of whole system (or the respective conserved entity) is zero during any time interval. Also the laws of motion can be given in such a form indicating the conservation of momentum. Wheeler apparently identifies the zero on the left hand side of those equations with nothing which in turn gives rise to the complex theory on the right hand side. /10/ The complexity of the equation is not found in the `zero' but in the right hand side, in the structure, in the algebra of the equations which are, therefore, non-trivial. /11/ Obviously, Wheeler only hides the problem of the infinite regression behind the phrase "the boundary of boundary is zero", but does not solve it.
Dennett proposes a kind of "Darwinian cosmology". He suggests Darwin's concept of natural selection as a means to produce order gradually in many small random steps not only for the origin of biological order but extends it to cosmology and consciousness (Dennett, 1995):
Darwin's idea had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened to leak out, offering answers--welcome or not--to questions in cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the other direction). If redesign could be a mindless, algorithmic process of evolution, why couldn't that whole process itself be the product of evolution, and so forth, all the way down? And if mindless evolution could account for the breathtakingly clever artifacts of the biosphere, how could the products of our own "real" minds be exempt from an evolutionary explanation? Darwin's idea thus also threatened to spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own divine spark of creativity and understanding. (p. 63, emphasis by Dennett)In his excursion about cosmology Dennett states that cosmological order is accidentally found without a need to explain its origin, a self evident, selforganizing system (Dennett, 1995):
What is left is what the process, shuffling through eternity, mindlessly finds (when it finds anything): a timeless Platonic possibility of order. That is indeed a thing of beauty, as mathematicians are forever exclaiming, but it is not itself something intelligent but, wonder of wonders, something intelligible. Being abstract and outside of time, it is nothing with an initiation or origin in need of explanation. (p. 184, emphasis by Dennett)The only Platonic elements which Dennett thinks his system requires is "a timeless Platonic possibility of order". All the rest of the order we discover in our universe is proposed to be found by the "mindless, algorithmic process of evolution." But does to "find" something not always mean that this something existed before and I found it? According to Dennett this algorithm applies to biology, cosmology as well as to our consciousness. He does not explain why an element of order being "abstract and outside of time" does not require an "initiation or origin in need of explanation." He simply takes its existence for granted. Dennett's approach parallels that of Wheeler who similarly assumes "a principle of organization which is no organization at all." (Wheeler, 1989)
Certain seldom mutations in the genotype may produce a phenotype which is superior in some respect than the parental genotypes. But accidental improvements cannot result in evolution as long as they are not selected for. Natural selection decides which individual, and on the long run which species survives. It is the driving "force" of evolution. Consequently, to understand the origin of order in biology, this selection step must be understood, this force which creates the wonders of animated nature. What kind of force selects for survival? According to Mayr there exists no particular external force which decides over life and death:
There is no particular selective force in nature, nor a definite selecting agent. There are many possible causes for the success of the few survivors. Some survival, perhaps a lot of it, is due to stochastic processes, that is, luck. Most of it, though is due to a superior working of the physiology of the surviving individual, which permits it to cope with the vicissitudes of the environment better than other members of the population. Selection cannot be dissected into an internal and an external portion. What determines the success of an individual is precisely the ability of the internal machinery of the organism's body (including its immune system) to cope with the challenges of the environment. It is not the environment that selects, but the organism that copes with the environment more or less successfully. There is no external selection force. (Mayr, 1991, pp. 86-87)In neo-Darwinism complex biological order is considered to be formed gradually by likely probabilistic causes (mutation and recombination) and accidental or necessary causes (natural selection). Because the successful information is kept and reproduced, repeated cumulation of order leads to the creation of complex biological order. Dawkins considers cumulative natural selection as the only possible explanation of complex life: "Cumulative selection, by slow and gradual degrees, is the explanation, the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed, for the existence of life's complex design." (Dawkins, 1986, p. 317) It should be clear, however, that the selection step is still assumed and not yet explained.
But where does biological order finally come from? Does it originate ad hoc during evolution, does it appear anew as if newly created? This would be the consequence of a modernized Aristotelian view. If the newly evolved characteristics are not the consequence of the present order, they must be new ad hoc creations. However, according to a modernized Platonic concept, evolution can also be understood as an unfolding of order inherent in the laws of nature, as a process to make implicit order visible, to transform potential order into actual order. In the first concept, order originates ad hoc on the path of evolution, whereas the second concept assumes a preexisting potential order, similar to Plato's essences. Both kinds of evolution are proposed by evolution biologists and theoretists.
Monod compares the essentialistic position with revelation, evolution as a revelation hidden realities. He contrasts essentialistic evolution with an ad hoc origin of order as creation. /13/ He considers newly developed biological characteristics as anew creations, originated by random processes:
Bergson, on s'en souvient, voyait dans l'évolution l'expression d'une force créatrice, absolue en ce sens qu'il ne la supposait pas tendue à une autre fin que la création en elle-même. En cela il diffère radicalement des animistes (qu'il s'agisse d'Engels, de Teilhard ou des positivistes optimistes tels que Spencer) qui tous voient dans l'évolution le majestueux déroulement d'un programme inscrit dans la trame même de l'Univers. Pour eux, par conséquent, l'évolution n'est pas véritablement création, mais uniquement révélation des intentions jusque-là inexprimées de la nature. D'où la tendance à voir dans le développement embryonnaire une émergence de même orde que l'émergence évolutive. Selon la théorie moderne, la notion de révélation s'applique au développement épigénétique, mais non, bien entendu, à l'émergence évolutive qui, grâce précisément au fait qu'elle prend sa source dans l'imprévisible essentiel, est créatrice de nouveauté absolue. (Monod, 1970, pp. 129-130)Monod explains Bergson's ideas, for whom evolution is the expression of a life giving force, of an élane vital, with the only purpose of creation as such. Monod translates this concept, which for Bergson was a vitalistic one, into modern sciences. For Monod absolute new characteristics emerge during evolution as de novo creations. Monod contrasts his ideas with the position of the "animistes", considering evolution as the unfolding of inherent properties, as revelation. He compares this essentialistic view of evolution with ontogenesis; as the embryonic development represents the unfolding of potentials of its genome, essentialistic evolution represents the unfolding of pattern preexisting in the fundamental laws of nature. These two contrary positions about the origin of order are now studied more carefully.
L'hypothèse n'est pas exclue, au contraire, par la structure actuelle da la biosphère, que l'événement décisif ne se soit produit qu'une seule fois. Ce qui signifierait que sa probabilité a priori était quasi nulle... Nous n'avons, à l'heure actuelle, pas le droit d'affirmer, ni celui de nier que la vie soit apparue une seule fois sur la Terre, et que, par conséquent, avant qu'elle ne fût, ses chances d'être étaient quasi nulles. (Monod, 1970, pp. 160-161)Monod interprets Bergson's creative force in a sense that during evolution new qualities are self-created. For Monod evolution is not the unfolding of preexisting potentials; it is the self-creation of new biological characteristics. This thought is also stressed by Mayr (Mayr, 1982, p. 487): "By introducing population thinking, Darwin produced one of the most fundamental revolutions in biological thinking... Adoption of population thinking is intimately tied up with a rejection of essentialist thinking. Variation is irrelevant and therefore uninteresting to the essentialist. Varying characters are `mere accidents,' in the language of essentialism, because they do not reflect the essence." Mayr and other evolution biologists (e.g. Wuketits (Wuketits, 1988)) obviously consider population thinking to be completely incompatible with essentialism, with the belief that evolution consists in the unfolding of inherent potentials implicitly encoded in the timeless laws of nature.
Whereas Monod considers life to be the result of pure chance, for Dawkins evolution is the very opposite of chance. According to his view life evolves nearly necessarily:
... there is the familiar, and I have to say rather irritating, confusion of natural selection with `randomness'. Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random... This belief, that Darwinian evolution is `random', is not merely false. It is the exact opposite of the truth. Chance is a minor ingredient in the Darwinian recipe, but the most important ingredient is cumulative selection which is quintessentially nonrandom. (Dawkins, 1986, p. 41 and 49)According to Dawkins, cumulative natural selection nearly inescapably leads to the evolution of a complex biosphere. Thus, cumulative selection appears to present a mechanism which produces complex order nearly out of nothing, by means of a series of very likely little accidents: "It took a very large leap of the imagination for Darwin and Wallace to see that contrary to all intuition, there is another way and, once you have understood it, a far more plausible way, for complex `design' to arise out of primeval simplicity" (Dawkins, 1986, p. xvi). Dawkins explanation of order emerging from a trivial origin is that death is a trivial event:
In nature, the usual selecting agent is direct, stark and simple. It is the grim reaper. Of course, the reasons for survival are anything but simple--this is why natural selection can build animals and plants of such formidable complexity. But there is something very crude and simple about death itself. And nonrandom death is all it takes to select phenotypes, and hence the genes that they contain, in nature. (Dawkins, 1986, p. 62)Apparently, Dawkins considers the lack of virtues of those who die in the battle of evolution to be more important than the virtues of those who survive, who are the "fittest". But of course, evolution is driven by the biological characteristics of those who survive and not of those who die. /15/
Dennett recently elaborated a concept of evolution in his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea (Dennett, 1995). He considers natural selection to self-create new discoveries: "Darwin described how a Nonintelligent Artificer could produce those adaptions over vast amounts of time, and proved the many of the intermediate stages that would be needed by that proposed process has indeed occurred" (p. 47). After reformulating the process of evolution as an algorithmic process, he states:
It is hard to believe that something as mindless and mechanical as an algorithm could produce such wonderful things. No matter how impressive the products of an algorithm, the underlying process always consists of nothing but a set of individually mindless steps succeeding each other without the help of any intelligent supervision; ... Can it [the actual biosphere] really be the outcome of nothing but a cascade of algorithmic processes feeding on chance? And if so, who designed that cascade? Nobody. It is itself the product of a blind, algorithmic process. (p. 59, the text in square brackets was added by the author)On the one hand, Dennett describes biological evolution as an ad hoc process of the origin of order. The complex forms of life are self-created by a stupid, mindless algorithm. Life has no purpose, no goal. According to him we are merely "the product of a blind, algorithmic process". If cosmology is included in this natural selection process, apparently order can originate from nearly nothing, from "a timeless Platonic possibility of order... nothing with an initiation or origin in need of explanation." (Dennett, 1995)
On the other hand, Dennett characterizes evolution as an algorithmic process as known from computers. Algorithms are formal systems were the "space" of possible states is defined a priori even in cases where it would be impossible to evaluate the complete space in practice, i.e., even if an infinite number of states exists. Such algorithms are, therefore, essentialistic par excellence; they represent a potential order by defining all possible states and the dynamics which determines time evolution through those states. His statement about a "timeless Platonic possibility of order" as a minimal requirement for his approach contradicts his description of evolution as an algorithmic process. The algorithm together with all possible particular states of the universe represents a gigantic, complex, timeless order. The algorithmic complexity of the resulting order cannot surpass the complexity of the underlying algorithm.
Mathematical biologists (e.g., Eigen; Kauffman), studying evolution, generally have a different understanding of the origin of order compared to Mayr or Monod. Self-creation of essentially new, unpredictable and irreproducible characteristics cannot be modeled mathematically. Formal models of evolution are always essentialistic, in that they define a "space" of possible "biological states", e.g., DNA sequences of a given length. Possible transitions between these states, mutations and recombinations during the replication of these sequences, mimic the dynamics of evolution. By means of a fitness function, relating each possible sequence to a fitness value, the survival of the fittest can be simulated. Evolution within such a model means to find the sequence or a set of sequences with maximal fitness values for a given situation. Mathematical models of evolution mimic essentialistic evolution, the unfolding of inherent potentials determined by the specific form of the fitness function. Today's mathematical models of evolution are limited by the drastic simplifications necessary to keep the problem mathematically tractable. Nevertheless, even using highly simplified models helps to understand important aspects of evolution (Kauffman, 1995) and to address certain more simple subproblems theoretically (Eigen, 1993) as well as experimentally (Biebricher, et al., 1993; Biebricher and Luce, 1993).
Interestingly, Dawkins proposes a similar idea. He speaks about the DNA sequence space as a mathematical space which potentially contains all possible forms of life: "There is another mathematical space filled ... with flesh and blood animals made of billions of cells, each containing tens of thousands of genes... The actual animals that have ever lived on Earth are a tiny subset of the theoretical animals that could exist." (Dawkins, 1986, p. 73) Dawkins states here that there exists a space of all possible DNA sequences. The majority of DNA sequences would not produce any living organism. Consequently, only a small subset of this complete space of DNA sequences represents the space of all possible forms of life. Dawkins concept of evolution from a trivial actual origin requires a complex potential order a priori. If all possible life forms exists potentially a priori then, in principle, the universe is complex a priori. All potential forms of life are preexistent. Mutations, recombinations and natural selections provide the dynamics within this sequence space, in a stochastic sense they determine the time points of the appearance of the different populations, they unfold the potential forms of life into actually existing biological organisms. Thus, Dawkins has to assume potential complexity a priori to explain the appearance of actual order.
As stated above, in practice the fitness related to a particular DNA sequence can be estimated only for extremely simplified systems (Spiegelman, 1967). The fitness function directly reflects the reproduction rate, i.e., the ability of a system to produce as many qualified offsprings as possible. /17/ In "essentialistic" evolution models, the genotype is selected according to criteria which are at least in principle objective and reproducible. Consequently, essentialistic evolution represents the unfolding of potential forms of life preexistent in the known or unknown laws of nature.
A major advantage of concepts of ad hoc evolution is that it apparently solves the problem of the infinite regression. But as shown above, the origin of small gains of order is not explained in those theories, it is simply assumed to exist. In contrast to ad hoc evolution models, essentialistic concepts of evolution explain the appearance of order on a certain level, but they shift the problem of the origin of order to the assumed fitness function. But what is the origin of this fitness function, the "expertise" to distinguish between fruitful and fruitless phenotypes? Thus, essentialistic evolution models suffer from the problem of the infinite regression. A conventional as well as radical solution of the problem of the origin of order is voluntary design, where order is assumed to exist from the very beginning ensured by the existence of a Creator. In such concepts, the origin of order is considered to be inexplicable in the last analysis.
A famous statement in favor of the design of nature by an intelligent Creator is the watchmaker argument (Dawkins, 1986; Sober, 1993). William Paley in his book Natural Theology published in 1805 (Sober, 1993) compares the fact, that all life forms have a complex functional order, with the design of a watch. Then suppose, someone finds a watch. From the purposefulness of the design and the high workmanship the finder would naturally conclude that the watch was made by a watchmaker and cannot have been assembled by accident. Paley than argues that it is also very unlikely that the complex order of life occurred by accident, and that it is much more reasonable to assume purposeful design by a Creator. Such kind of argument in favor of willful design was generally understood as a powerful proof against evolution by chance.
There is a significant difference between explanations by accident and willful design. Whereas in the case of accidental cause there might be a hope that complexity can be explained by simplicity. In the case of willful design the designer always needs to be more complex than the designed. Dawkins formulates this argument very bluntly:
But of course any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein replicating machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself. Far more so if we suppose him additionally capable of such advanced function s as listening to prayers and forgiving sins. To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. (Dawkins, 1986)Models, where the origin of order is assumed to result from willful design, presuppose that complex order exists from the very beginning, e.g., as the realization of ideas in the Mind of God. In the light of the problems of accidental and necessary causes to explain complex order shown above, however, this third possibility should not be neglected a priori.
A drop of the billowing ocean of His endless mercy hath adorned all creation with the ornament of existence, and a breath wafted from His peerless Paradise hath invested all beings with the robe of His sanctity and glory. A sprinkling from the unfathomed deep of His sovereign and all-pervasive Will hath, out of utter nothingness, called into being a creation which is infinite in its range and deathless in its duration. The wonders of His bounty can never cease, and the stream of His merciful grace can never be arrested. The process of His creation hath had no beginning, and can have no end... From time immemorial He hath been veiled in the ineffable sanctity of His exalted Self, and will everlastingly continue to be wrapt in the impenetrable mystery of His unknowable Essence. Every attempt to attain to an understanding of His inaccessible Reality hath ended in complete bewilderment, and every effort to approach His exalted Self and envisage His Essence hath resulted in hopelessness and failure. (Bahá'u'lláh, 1971, 26:2,3)Although our Creator reigns above human comprehension this universe uncovers the signs of His creative force, the traces of His revelation. Bahá'u'lláh describes creation as a mirror reflecting the names and attributes of God:
Know thou that every created thing is a sign of the revelation of God. Each, according to its capacity, is, and will ever remain, a token of the Almighty. Inasmuch as He, the sovereign Lord of all, hath willed to reveal His sovereignty in the kingdom of names and attributes, each and every created thing hath, through the act of the Divine Will, been made a sign of His glory. So pervasive and general is this revelation that nothing whatsoever in the whole universe can be discovered that doth not reflect His splendor. (Bahá'u'lláh, 1971, 93:1)Each created thing or being in the universe is able to reflect the Light of God and to mirror forth His names and attributes to a certain predescribed degree. The creation as a whole is considered as a revelation of God's sovereignty. Nothing exists which does not reflect His splendor. Humanity is defined as the most complete reflection of God's bounty:
Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty. (Bahá'u'lláh, 1971, 27:2)This ability to realize the names and attributes of God is used in the Bahá'í writings to define human beings. This ability is, therefore, not necessarily limited to the biological species homo sapiens.
According to `Abdu'l-Bahá, God is independent from time, as a result, His names and attributes are likewise timeless. Consequently, the revelation of the inherent features of God's names and attributes is also time independent:
Consequently, just as the reality of Divinity never had a beginning--that is, God has ever been a Creator, God has ever been a Provider, God has ever been a Quickener, God has ever been a Bestower--so there never has been a time when the attributes of God have not had expression... So, likewise, if we say there was a time when God had no creation or created beings, a time when there were no recipients of His bounties and that His names and attributes had not been manifested, this would be equivalent to a complete denial of Divinity, for it would mean that Divinity is accidental. (PUP, p. 463)This argument parallels Plato's argument of the perfectly harmonious universe where the universe is assumed to be perfect from the beginning. It is more carefully analyzed below. The eternal names and attributes of God represent the blueprints of all existing tokens in our universe. This concept shows similarities with Plato's concept of essences. A concise analysis of the relation between the names and attributes of God and Plato's essences is certainly beyond the scope of this work. Here these two terms are used more or less equivalently. The "essences" and the "names and attributes of God" are assumed to represent on a timeless level all possible states of this universe, all possible outcomes, and the dynamic relations between these states. By the term "species essence" the possible structure of biological organisms is indicated.
According to the Bahá'í writings the complex order of our material universe reflects the (unlimited complex) Divine Order by mirroring forth the eternal names and attributes of God: "And not an atom of all the atoms in existence, not a creature from amongst the creatures but speaketh His praise and telleth of His attributes and names, revealeth the glory of His might and guideth to His oneness and His mercy" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1978, 19:8). This position has parallels in the beliefs of the natural theologists who thought that nature everywhere reflects the presence of a benevolent Creator. Studying nature was considered to reveal the plans of God. The timelessness of the names and attributes of God as the blueprints for our universe shows similarities with Plato's harmonious universe which is timelessly perfect. "Complexity", which reveals itself all over the biosphere, is assumed to exist from the very beginning, to be a substantial part of this universe. But does such a concept not contradict the principle used in science today?
`Abdu'l-Bahá describes the structure of this world in form of a hierarchy. In a letter to the Swiss scientist Auguste Forel `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote:
As to the existence of spirit in the mineral: it is indubitable that minerals are endowed with a spirit and life according to the requirements of that stage... In the vegetable world, too, there is the power of growth, and that power of growth is the spirit. In the animal world there is the sense of feeling, but in the human world there is an all-embracing power. In all preceding stages the power of reason is absent, but the soul existeth and revealeth itself. The sense of feeling understandeth not the soul, whereas the reasoning power of the mind proveth the existence thereof. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1984, pp. 71-72) /18/`Abdu'l-Bahá distinguishes between four levels of spirit: the mineral, the vegetable, the animal and the human kingdom. In modern biology the kingdoms, originally introduced by Aristotle, are used in a taxonomic sense, they designate distinct classes of organisms (see Mayr (Mayr, 1982) for a short history of taxonomy). `Abdu'l-Bahá is obviously not concerned with a taxonomic distinction of biological classes, but indicates a hierarchy of increasingly complex faculties. Each higher level includes all the lower ones, but not those above.
This hierarchical understanding of the kingdoms is explained in an other passage of the Letter to Forel where `Abdu'l-Bahá emphasizes the interrelation between the kingdoms:
All divine philosophers and men of wisdom and understanding, when observing these endless beings, have considered that in this great and infinite universe all things end in the mineral kingdom, that the outcome of the mineral kingdom is the vegetable kingdom, the outcome of the vegetable kingdom is the animal kingdom and the outcome of the animal kingdom the world of man. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1984, p. 73)Thus, in this context, the `kingdoms' certainly don't designate taxonomic distinct classes but hierarchical levels. `Abdu'l-Bahá describes this hierarchy phenomenologically, by the essential characteristics related to each level, by "growth", the "sense of feeling" and "reason". /19/ But how do these levels distinguish in practice? Is there something added at each level, e.g., a kind of élan vitale? `Abdu'l-Bahá gives a rather atomistic view of those levels:
In its ceaseless progression and journeyings the atom becomes imbued with the virtues and powers of each degree or kingdom it traverses. In the degree of the mineral it possessed mineral affinities; in the kingdom of the vegetable it manifested the virtue augmentative, or power of growth; in the animal organism it reflected the intelligence of that degree, and in the kingdom of man it was qualified with human attributes or virtues... No atom is bereft or deprived of this opportunity or right of expression. Nor can it be said of a given atom that it is denied equal opportunities with other atoms; nay, all are privileged to possess the virtues existent in these kingdoms and to reflect the attributes of their organisms. (PUP p. 285, see also p. 350) /20/According to `Abdu'l-Bahá, "no atom is bereft" of the virtues to reflect the respective names and attributes of God at the different levels. The emergence of the more complex characteristics, however, requires a respective environment, certain necessary boundary conditions. It needs a sufficiently complex organization.
A possible interpretation of these levels, which is compatible with findings of modern science, relates the different kingdoms to hierarchical levels of information processing. The lowest kingdom is the mineral kingdom. It describes an organization level of atoms found in stones, water, air, etc. The second level is the vegetable kingdom, represented by the plants. As explained by `Abdu'l-Bahá, there are no special mineral atoms or vegetable atoms, but the same atoms travel through all the kingdoms of life and observe the same laws of chemistry and physics. But the vegetable kingdom shows attributes not found in the mineral kingdom: growth, metabolism, and replication. Ernst Mayr (Mayr, 1982, p. 131) stresses the complexity of biological systems, /21/ the existence of a genetic plan and the ability to perform purposeful actions:
It is now widely admitted not only that the complexity of biological systems is of a different order of magnitude, but also that the existence of historically evolved programs is unknown in the inanimate world. Teleonomic processes and adapted systems, made possible by these programs, are unknown in physical systems.Biological cells are able to reproduce themselves because of their genetic plan (Alberts, et al., 1989; Dawkins, 1989; Dawkins, 1995). This plan provides the cells with the knowledge to survive in their common environment. According to Kuhn and Waser (Kuhn and Waser, 1982), this innate knowledge distinguishes organic life from inanimate matter.
The third level in this hierarchy is occupied by the animal kingdom. The special properties of this level are the senses, mediated by a sufficiently complex neural network, e.g., the central nervous system. The central nervous system receives input from the environment and allows animals to react instantaneously to this external input. This ability distinguishes the animal kingdom from the vegetable kingdom. The animal kingdom encompasses both the mineral and vegetable kingdoms insofar as it depends at its own level on incorporating the structural and qualitative complexity of the kingdoms preceding it.
The fourth stage is the human kingdom. The main attribute distinguishing the human species from the lower kingdoms is the human intellect. This does not mean that other species do not show intelligence, but no other species has the capacity to develop speech, technology, culture, and civilization. Individuals of the human species share many attributes in common with the animal world, though the attribute of cooperation among human beings is stronger than in most other species. A comparable hierarchy of complex orders was recently proposed by Dawkins (Dawkins, 1995).
Each higher level in the hierarchy encompasses the lower ones, but is not the trivial outcome of them. The characteristics of each level are emergent properties in the best sense of the word. By the "spirit of growth" `Abdu'l-Bahá very likely refers to more than a complex grouping of atoms. `Abdu'l-Bahá makes this clear in the case of the human spirit. According to `Abdu'l-Bahá, the individual human soul is an emergent property of the special composition of the human body and the influence of other beings:
Moreover, these members, these elements, this composition, which are found in the organism of man, are an attraction and magnet for the spirit; it is certain that the spirit will appear in it... when these existing elements are gathered together according to the natural order, and with perfect strength, they become a magnet for the spirit, and the spirit will become manifest in them with all its perfections. (SAQ 52, old translation)Because the "spirit" appears after the composition of the elements, it is likely that `Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the individual human soul in this passage and not to the "human spirit", i.e., the human species essence. `Abdu'l-Bahá clearly favors the essentialistic version of emergence. The human spirit is not the result of the particular composition of the atoms but the spirit is preexistent and only appears when the respective complexity in the atomic composition is is obtained. Using Monod's (Monod, 1970) terminology, the human spirit is not "created" during evolution but it is revealed, made manifest. /22/
According to the hierarchy of kingdoms there is no substantial difference between animal and human biology, no distinction between animal and human bodies with respect to sensations and feelings. As Bahá'u'lláh states in the Kitáb-i-Iqán: "The life of the flesh is common to both men and animals, whereas the life of the spirit is possessed only by the pure in heart" (Bahá'u'lláh, 1989, p. 120). `Abdu'l-Bahá also affirms that "in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man". (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1978, p. 158).
In contrast to the taxonomic understanding of distinct kingdoms in modern biology, `Abdu'l-Bahá uses the kingdoms to describe the complex order of the biosphere in form of a hierarchy. These levels represent degrees of increasing complex reflections of the names and attributes of God. Each higher level includes the lower ones, but not vice versa. This interpretation of `Abdu'l-Bahá's kingdoms as a hierarchy of levels of information processing has the advantage that very likely the same or at least similar concepts apply to extra terrestrial biology (see also Loehle (Loehle, 1994, p. 111)). At the lowest level, life requires "replicators" (Dawkins, 1995). Only systems which can reproduce themselves can evolve the respective higher levels of organization.
Now, formation is of three kinds and of three kinds only: accidental, necessary and voluntary. The coming together of the various constituent elements of beings cannot be accidental, for unto every effect there must be a cause. It cannot be necessary, for then the formation must be an inherent property of the constituent parts and the inherent property of a thing can in no wise be dissociated from it... The third formation remaineth and that is the voluntary one, that is, an unseen force described as the Ancient Power, causeth these elements to come together, every formation giving rise to a distinct being. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1984, p. 75)In this argument of the three causes `Abdu'l-Bahá considers the three possible origins of the complex order found in this world: accidental and necessary forces, and an origin of order by voluntary design (see also Loehle (Loehle, 1994, p. 101)). Accidental causes are not even considered as "real" forces, because the "coming together of the various constituent elements of beings cannot be accidental, for unto every effect there must be a cause." As shown above the "effect" of complex order requires an explanation (Dawkins, 1986), a "cause". The origin of complex order by chance alone is too improbable that such a possibility has to be taken into account in modern scientific theories of evolution.
`Abdu'l-Bahá rejects mechanistic theories for the evolution of life, because the existence of life is obviously not necessary. If the evolution of biological order would be necessary only "uphill" evolution would be found. According to Gould (Gould, 1994) such unidirectionality is not seen in nature. Thus, `Abdu'l-Bahá also rejects trivial forms of orthogenetic evolution, frequently assumed at the time He wrote this Letter to Forel. For instance, Büchner accepts only necessary causes in evolution. Consequently, he denies the existence of chance in the process of the development of life: "... but chance ... does not exist in nature, where at last everything occurs in a natural, necessary way (Büchner, 1904, p. 112). Complexification as a necessary natural process is the logical consequence of grounding a world view in mechanics. For Forel, who was well versed in the evolution discussion of his time, this argument may have been important to understand `Abdu'l-Bahá's position.
In principle, stochastic models of evolution, e.g., diffusion in a fitness landscape, shows the behavior found in evolution, if the fitness function is sufficiently well behaved (Kauffman, 1995; Kauffman, 1996). Stochastic models of evolution combine random elements (mutation) and necessary elements (the fitness function). The argument of the infinite regression, however, which is given by `Abdu'l-Bahá in the same letter, applies also to the origin of the fitness function. Thus, although stochastic evolution models are expected to explain evolution on a scientific level, they do not explain the origin of order as such, because the existence of the fitness function as the implicit source of complex order has to be assumed to exist a priori. Because chance and necessity have not qualified as a last cause of complex order, `Abdu'l-Bahá concludes that only voluntary creation is left over as the final source of the origin of order. A being, or a force which is able to create this universe by mean of free will is generally equated with the Creator (or it's female equivalent), with God.
Hatcher adds the observation that evolution of life is an example of a development from simple towards complex life forms:
All these sedimentary layers show the same basic configuration, namely, that higher, more complex forms of life followed simpler, less complex forms. In other words, the process of evolution was a process of complexification, of moving from relative simplicity and disorder towards relative complexity and order. It was therefore a process of moving from more probable configurations towards less probable configurations. (Hatcher, 1993).From this "movement" of evolution "uphill", i.e., against the directions which would be adopted automatically by nature, Hatcher concludes that there must be a special kind of force which causes this complexification during evolution of life on earth. Very likely, most evolutionists will follow Hatcher in this conclusion. Dawkins (Dawkins, 1986) for instance uses a similar probabilistic argument to show that the "... essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale." They will, however, generally not accept his identification of this evolutionary force with "God": "It seem reasonable to call this force `God', but anyone uncomfortable with that name can simply call it `the evolutionary force' (or, more precisely, `the force that produced evolution and thus produced the human being')" (Hatcher, 1993). Mayr (Mayr, 1991), for instance, explicitly rejects the existence of a particular evolutionary force. And Dennett (Dennett, 1995) claims that evolution can be explained by a "blind algorithmic process".
Hatcher's rejection of the more conventional explanations of evolution may be influenced by his particular understanding of evolution: "This is why the currently accepted theory of evolution attempts to explain the upward movement (the movement towards greater order) in evolution as the fortunate coincidence of two random phenomena: the action of natural selection (essentially random environmental impact) on random mutations (spontaneous genetic change)" (Hatcher and Hatcher, 1996; Hatcher, 1993). Although most evolutionists will agree that the mutation step (and recombination according to Mayr (Mayr, 1982, p. 591)) is random, most of them will disagree that the selection step is random as well. Dawkins (Dawkins, 1986) for instance emphatically emphasizes that evolution, e.g., neo-Darwinism is not the result of pure chance. Hatcher's understanding of the selection step applies to the kind of evolution, where order is assumed to originate ad hoc, is the result of quasi anew creations, unpredictable and quasirandom. In mathematical biology the selection step is determined by the fitness function. In such theories, selection is not random but on the long run occurs according to the fitness values of the individuals. In this case the complexity found in life represents the unfolding of the potential complexity inherent in the laws of nature similar to the protein folding example. In his response to the Gordon Dick's (Dicks, 1994) comment about his article, Hatcher (Hatcher, 1994) claims that even neo-Darwinism cannot explain evolution:
Clearly and indisputably, this (narrow) process of natural selection could never, even theoretically, account for the progressive complexification of life forms in the evolutionary process... In any case, under the neo-Darwinian assumption, mutations favorable to increase complexity would, at best, only be sporadic (or sparse), i.e., insufficiently frequent to allow for any significant process of convergence. (Hatcher, 1994)Unfortunately, Hatcher does not substantiate his claim. Of course the possibility of progressive evolution in a fitness landscape is not trivial and is subject to intensive mathematical studies (Eigen, 1992; Kauffman, 1995; Prigogine, 1979; Prigogine and Stengers, 1981; Ruthen, 1993). According to those studies, not every fitness function leads to evolution, but some do. Consequently, Hatcher's argument does not apply to evolution theories where a suitable, objective fitness function is assumed to exist. /23/
Hatcher apparently assumes that this kind of evolution can be rejected on the basis of `Abdu'l-Bahá's statement that evolution "cannot be necessary, for then the formation must be an inherent property of the constituent parts and the inherent property of a thing can in no wise be dissociated from it" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1984, p. 75). Hatcher concludes that "the clearly random element involved in the process of evolution utterly refutes the `inherent necessity' objection to the classical design argument" (Hatcher and Hatcher, 1996, p. 13). `Abdu'l-Bahá's argument and Hatcher interpretation of it certainly applies to the models of necessary evolution assumed in the second half of the 19th century where the element of chance was explicitly excluded. The dynamics of matter were considered to follow Newton's laws which are entirely deterministic and consequently can produce "only the results of strictest necessity" (Büchner, 1904, p. 84). Modern mathematical evolution theories explicitly include the "clearly random element involved in the process of evolution."
Hatcher obviously envisions a kind of temporal regression where chains of causation important for evolution are initiated be God's voluntary act: "The evolution-based argument thus establishes not only the existence of God but also provides at least one clear instance when God has intervened in (or interacted with) the ongoing process of the world" (Hatcher and Hatcher, 1996, p. 14). Such kind of God's invention is likewise proposed by Loehle (Loehle, 1994, p. 110): "... I postulate (the Bahá'í writings do not specify this) that divine Will may have operated at times to help guide the process towards humanity; it was God's intentions from the beginning that humanity should arise." Recently Ward made a similar suggestion. According to him, the physical laws of our universe represent idealizations which do not rule out the possibility of God's actions (Ward, 1996, pp. 132-133): "The element of indeterminism involved in the `freedom hypothesis' is simply that not everything that happens is the result solely of the operation of a general law, or combination of general laws, upon some previous physical state. Such indeterminism, or at least the appearance of it, is commonplace in ordinary human affairs." He discusses the proposed goal directedness in terms of human values, addressing the question of socio-biology, i.e., the source of human values: "Its biological origins would be a natural consequence of the grounding of the whole evolutionary process in a divine plan" (Ward, 1996, p. 183).
Chance as the origin of order can be excluded by simple probabilistic arguments. There are too many less complex alternatives that purely random processes have any chance to form a complex biosphere. A necessary origin of order, i.e., the order as a necessary outcome of the laws of nature, suffer from the problem of the infinite regression. If the existent order is the result of the laws of nature what causes the existence of the laws of nature? Popular presentations of modern cosmologies generally tend to hide the regression behind an apparently self-evident origin, without a need for further explanations. Alternatively, modern evolution biologists often propose a stochastic process as the origin of order, a combination of chance and necessity. The problem of the "colossal improbability" of pure chance is overcome by cumulative selection. If selection is quasi random, as in models of ad hoc origination of complex order, the problem of the "colossal improbability" remains and Hatcher's argument applies. If selection is based on an in principle objective and reproducible fitness function the origin of this fitness function must be explained. This, again, leads to the problem of the infinite regression. In a letter to Forel, `Abdu'l-Bahá uses this situation to conclude that only the third alternative of causes of order remains, the origin of order by voluntary design. This approach, in contrast to many modern proposals in cosmology and evolution biology, assumes complexity from the very beginning.
/2/ During the 19th century chance was not considered to be important for evolution. For instance Büchner as well as Haeckel based evolution entirely on necessary causes.
/4/ In the light of modern mathematics this argument to initiate this universe on voluntary acts may be understood as a reasonable way to escape the incompleteness theorem formulated by the Austrian mathematician Gödel (e.g., see (Hofstadter, 1979)). Formal systems are essentially incomplete, i.e., there are always true statements regarding the formal system which cannot be proven to be true within the system, but require a meta-system. Because the same incompleteness theorem applies to the meta-system, any formal system is necessarily incomplete. This purely mathematical theorem implies that there exists no complete formal theory to explain our universe. Because of the essential incompleteness of formal systems it is certainly not unreasonable to go beyond formal systems and include "free will" as the primary entity of causation.
/5/ It is important to note that here we have only the analogy. The quantity which according to the second law of thermodynamics always increases is the entropy. It is a measure of statistical order, but cannot distinguish between meaningful and meaningless message. Entropy therefore, is not a measure for biological order.
/6/ The apple falls from the tree because the wind blows. But what causes the wind to blow and to shake the tree?
/7/ In modern physics, the second law of thermodynamics is formulated that locally entropy (i.e., disorder) is always generated but never destroyed. A decrease of entropy in a small volume element can be obtained by free energy influx which corresponds to an influx of "negative entropy", equivalent to an outflow of entropy. Systems which exchange energy with their environment are designated open systems. The planet earth represents such an open system. Light from the sun enters the geosphere, the surplus of energy is reemitted into the universe in form of thermal radiation. The resulting free energy difference drives non-equilibrium processes such as weather and provides our planet with the necessary means to develop life. Thus, the second law of thermodynamics does not contradict evolution, it defines necessary conditions for it.
/10/ Here Wheelers idea is simplified. But the argument also holds for the more complex form of the idea proposed by Wheeler.
/11/ If the understanding of the left hand side zero takes several years of dedicated studies of theoretical physics, also such a zero is certainly not trivial, not self evident.
/12/ A small protein may consist in 130 of its building blocks, the amino acids. There are 20 different naturally occurring amino acids. The number of all possible sequences (20130 = 10170) of this small protein with 130 amino acids exceeds by orders of magnitude the estimated number of neutrons in our universe or the estimated age of it given in seconds (von Weizsäcker, 1986). Because changes in the sequence often result in the complete loss of the function of the protein, it is not likely that even a single small protein endowed with a highly specific and efficient function was generated by pure change during the existence of the universe. The probability to create a complete organism by accident is again many orders of magnitude lower than the probability to form a simple protein. Using such probabilistic arguments the accidental existence of life can be practically excluded.
/13/ Throughout this essay the term creation is used in the sense that something essentially new appeared, unpredictable in principle, unforseeable, not preexistent in any form, not the unfolding of inherent potentials. In this sense the term creation is used by Monod (Monod, 1970) and Mayr (Mayr, 1982). Mayr, Monod and others obviously assume a type of creation without a cause, particularly without a creator.
/14/ As shown by modern mathematics (Hofstadter, 1979) the randomness of a sequence of numbers or characters cannot be proven. Good counter examples are pseudo random number generators. Although the numbers of good generators fulfill nearly every test for randomness they are completely deterministic, reproducible, and therefore not random.
/15/ Analogously, the excellence of those who pass an examination cannot be evaluated from the lack of knowledge of those who failed.
/16/ A well known example is the Bénard instability of oil when heated from below (Prigogine, 1979; Prigogine and Stengers, 1981). Beyond a certain temperature gradient, the oil forms hexagonally ordered convection cells. Probably no one would claim that the Bénard instability was created during its discovery and did not potentially exist before in the laws of fluid dynamics.
/17/ A good model to study evolution appears to be the problem of protein folding. Many small water soluble proteins melt above a certain temperature, i.e., they partly or totally unfold, and fold back into their native state after recooling. If the native state would have to be found by means of a random search through all possible protein conformations the required folding time would be longer than the age of our universe (Anfinsen, 1973). Experimentally one finds folding times in the range from milliseconds to hours. The folding path way of the protein is determined by the free energy of each of the possible states. Only if this free energy landscape satisfies certain requirements and prevents the protein to search the complete conformational space during folding (Baldwin, 1990) protein folding is possible. In the same sense evolution is possible only along those regions in sequence space where sequences with high fitness values neighbor a sufficient number of other sequences also with sufficiently high fitness values.
/19/ In an email group Juan Cole posted: "`Abdu'l-Bahá accepts an essentially Aristotelian notion of a hierarchy of types of soul, where soul really means a set of abilities or faculties. Thus, plants have a vegetative soul, which is equivalent to the faculty of growth/reproduction. Animals have an animal soul which is equivalent to the faculty of deliberate movement. Humans have a rational soul, which is equivalent to the faculty of rational thinking. These `souls' or capacities are seen to exist apart from matter, perhaps in the World of Forms, but are `attracted' by matter when it is arranged in a certain way." (cited with permission of the author)
/21/ It is certainly no overstatement that a single living cell is more complex than the whole rest of the inanimate universe. A small protein consisting of 130 amino acids can form in the order of 4130 = 1080 different conformations, if 4 different conformations are assumed for each amino acid (Anfinsen, 1973). This number of conformations is of the order of the estimated number of neutrons in our universe (von Weizsäcker, 1986).
/22/ `Abdu'l-Bahá uses the phrase that the composition attracts the human spirit. According to Newton's principle of actio equals reactio one can also assume the reverse: the human spirit attracts the composition which favors its manifestation. In this sense the human spirit may become an "attractor" for the atomic composition required for its revelation. The term attractor is originally used to describe certain types of solutions of complex dynamic systems. It `guides' many solutions of a system into a single domain of solutions or even a single solution. In this sense the "human spirit" define certain domains of stationary, dynamic atomic assemblies (human bodies) within which human life is possible. Such mechanism represents an essentialistic evolution concept.
/23/ There is a method of simulating properties of molecular assemblies, the Metropolis Monte Carlo procedure (Metropolis, et al., 1953) which illucidates this concept of evolution. It also consists in two steps: (1) starting from an initial configuration the molecules are randomly move a bit; and (2) the acceptance of this random trial configuration depends on its "fitness", a measure of its physical feasableness designated free energy, compared to the fitness of the original configuration. Here the fitness function (force field) has to be provided by the programmer. The degree of realism of such simulation depends on the quality of the "fitness function". The challenging problem of such simulations is not the random step but to find reasonable force fields, reasonable fitness functions (e.g., approximations to the conformational free energy of a protein as a function of its coordinates). This method is known as a powerful method to explore complicated fitness functions.
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