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Is Darwinian Evolution a Complete Explanation of Life?

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(Article changed on April 4, 2013 at 11:00)

From small-DSC_0689 charles darwin
small-DSC_0689 charles darwin by Gêro

I recently posted an article titled, God, Evolution And The Goal Oriented Universe. This column will add a bit more detail to my suspicion that we may live in a teleological (goal oriented) universe. Please keep in mind that I am not arguing for or against an intelligent designer. Further, I am not a scientist, so my view is more philosophical than scientific. Tending toward instrumentalism, I write about what I think is useful rather than a comprehensive explanation of objective reality.

From Charles Q. Choi, of Scientific American, "Billions of years ago, organic chemicals in the primordial soup somehow organized themselves into the first organisms. A few years ago scientists found that something similar happens every once in awhile in the cells of all living things: bits of once-quiet stretches of   DNA sometimes spontaneously assemble themselves into genes. Such "de novo" genes may go on to play significant roles in the evolution of individual organisms--even humans."

This discovery causes one to question if Neo-Darwinian theory is a complete and comprehensive explanation for the evolution of life. By way of review:   

Neo-Darwinian evolution maintains that heritable characteristics are passed on to progeny. Of course, they must survive and reproduce if heredity is to be successful. In the process of reproduction, certain mutations will occur. If those mutations provide an adaptive advantage in a particular niche, the organism will flourish.

This implies that evolution is acausal and random. But it also implies the environment influences evolution by providing niches that allow for survival of those organisms best suited for each niche. In addition to de novo genes, there's more.

We now know there are other factors that can shape evolution by affecting how a gene expresses. This process is being called epigenetic. Because the process seems to be an emergent property of normal genetic evolution but not due to direct inheritance of genetic characteristics.  

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Now, Dr. Stuart Kauffman has a new, and third question to consider; some niches come into existence as a result of another niche that is not necessarily a part of the existing environment. In other words, it is adjacent to the primary niche but just happens to allow for another organism to flourish. It has nothing to do with either an adaptive advantage to fill an existing niche or epigenetic influences.

So let's review:

1.        Evolution is the process of random selection for adaptive advantages for niches that exist in the environment.

2.       Genes spontaneously assemble themselves from once quiet stretches of DNA.

3.       Genes express differently based on epigenetic (external) factors and these modified genes can be conserved through heredity.

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4.       Genetic modifications can spontaneously create new adjacent niches that didn't exist in the environment before the modification showed up.

Do these facts support the belief that evolution is acausal? Take just item four; if the unintended adjacent niche provides for the flourishing of another organism, why? Is it purely by accident or is there an overarching goal? I don't know the answer. But I also don't know why this universe is finely tuned to allow for intelligent life to evolve; referred to as the anthropic principle.

In the absence of entailing laws governing the emergence of life, anything is possible. But for some reason, complex life   becomes conscious in a universe that tends toward more, rather than less, entropy.

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Author, columnist and blogger with a long career in business management, management consulting and executive coaching. I am a certified ontological coach. I've studied clinical therapeutic practices in Gestalt psychology and am a Certified Birkman (more...)

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First, what evolutionist claims Darwin is the "com... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Apr 4, 2013 at 12:06:14 PM
I seem to have a knack for red herrings although, ... by Robert De Filippis on Thursday, Apr 4, 2013 at 12:37:20 PM
I didn't allege intentionality, just showing off m... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Apr 4, 2013 at 1:06:41 PM
I do so enjoy your feedback. But to be sure, I don... by Robert De Filippis on Thursday, Apr 4, 2013 at 5:02:20 PM
I am not making complex arguments here so if I am ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Apr 4, 2013 at 6:56:30 PM
I believe that I have good reason to believe that ... by Rick Ryals on Thursday, Apr 4, 2013 at 4:13:05 PM
and related topics. "Darwin's theory" has long evo... by Daniel Geery on Thursday, Apr 4, 2013 at 5:04:55 PM
Thank you for your thoughtful response. You touch ... by Robert De Filippis on Thursday, Apr 4, 2013 at 5:43:13 PM
You state, "Please keep in mind that I am not arg... by Burl Hall on Friday, Apr 5, 2013 at 12:02:56 AM
Thanks for your response. Very nicely stated.... by Robert De Filippis on Friday, Apr 5, 2013 at 8:27:03 AM
Robert, thanks for reading. Burl... by Burl Hall on Friday, Apr 5, 2013 at 1:14:43 PM
A couple of simple points: Darwin didn't discover ... by Paul Carline on Friday, Apr 5, 2013 at 3:31:36 AM
Interesting take on the issue. Thanks.... by Robert De Filippis on Friday, Apr 5, 2013 at 8:29:00 AM
I would add that "Darwinian evolution" is not the ... by John Moffett on Friday, Apr 5, 2013 at 10:42:36 AM
a rather recent addition to the quandary, a PRODUC... by molly cruz on Friday, Apr 5, 2013 at 12:59:45 PM
In my study, as science and spirituality overlap w... by Cynthia Piano on Sunday, Apr 7, 2013 at 9:00:36 AM