The UK Magazine Front Line Genomics ran a story on Evolution 2.0, interviewing me along with judges George Church of Harvard / MIT, Michael Ruse of Florida State University, and Denis Noble of Oxford:
I appeared on WTVR’s “Good Morning Virginia” talking about Evolution 2.0:
Can Anybody Actually Win The Evolution 2.0 Prize?
Science, God, and
Happy Chemical Accidents
There’s a million codes out there. HTML, bar codes, zip codes, Java, English and Chinese.
Out of a million codes, 999,999 are designed by humans.
There’s one code we don’t know the origin of – and that’s DNA. We don’t know of any codes that are not designed. This implies design in DNA.
That’s an unsolved science mystery. So I and a group of Private Equity Investors have formed a company, Natural Code LLC, to offer a multi-million dollar technology prize for Origin Of Information.
There are two kinds of evolution:
1) There’s the version that you read about in the bookstore. It’s two-thirds science fiction.
2) Then there’s the version that PhD biologists, cancer researchers and genetic engineers use to do their jobs.
The two are entirely different.
Popular books tell you evolution works like this: Read more »
The opening shot of my book Evolution 2.0 is an argument between me and my brother about evolution. Bryan had been a missionary in China, but in four years he went from right-wing Christian seminary grad to almost atheist.
He was dragging me with him. I wasn’t enjoying it, but I knew I had to be intellectually honest.
I found myself retreating to what I know best, which is science. I said, “Bryan, look at the hand at the end of your arm. I’m an engineer, and your hand is a fine, fine piece of engineering. You don’t think your hand is an accumulation of random accidents, do you?”
Bryan was good and ready for that question, and he pushed back with a standard-issue Darwinian answer. His answer didn’t quite Read more »
They wrote an excellent article about the Evolution 2.0 Prize in their magazine Spectrum:
A friend of mine commented that the Trinity was a made-up crazy idea concocted by the church in the early middle ages. I say the Trinity is reflected in the very nature of information.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote this fascinating Facebook post about information theory:
Take a good look at this diagram and study it, because I came to the same exact conclusion years ago. The communication system itself is one of the most vital fractal patterns in the universe.
Even though this structure is the foundation of Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA in 1953, the biologists have mostly misunderstood it, many people in many disciplines have misunderstood it because although you can use reductionist analysis to study it (it’s absolutely central to Electrical Engineering) you cannot use reductionist physics to explain its origin.
Here’s what I mean by that. A communication system is an [encoder] -> [a message] -> [and a decoder].
Here’s the diagram we use for the Evolution 2.0 Prize:
You text me on your phone. Your phone encodes your words into a message and sends them over a communication channel, and my phone decodes your message. The amount of information is the number of bits it takes to encode the message. The message can be degraded by noise.
For the guy who builds TVs, cell phones, etc., his #1 job is to combat the noise.
Everything I just said is simple reductionism. It is very powerful. What you cannot reduce to formula though (by definition) is the origin of the message itself, the “surprise” and originality of that message, the creation which requires will and intent. Its origin is by definition not algorithmic.
The heart of this question is nothing less than the mystery of consciousness – which no one to date has ever even been able to fully define, let alone explain.
All communication systems that we know the origin of are designed. This suggests that consciousness comes first in the universe. Consciousness first, matter second. Not the other way around. (If anyone solves the Evolution 2.0 Prize, and I hope they do, they’ll solve it by starting with consciousness and working from there. My 2 cents.)
You cannot create messages or communication by blind material processes, so far as anyone knows thus far. Information always starts with consciousness. Which is the thesis of my Evolution 2.0 book.
All of this is pretty simple stuff. It’s not rocket science. But it is kind of trippy, and it’s fractal. So people struggle to wrap their heads around it.
Well if you can wrap your head around it, you can see how, as Taleb says, it has implications for dozens of fields of study, including core philosophical questions like consciousness and free will. I recommend the book “In the Beginning was Information” by Werner Gitt because it offers the best philosophical treatment of this subject I’ve ever seen.
Information theory shows that words and language are the basis of all creative acts. They are also the basis of all replication and all memes. So having understood this I was doubly struck by John’s opening statement in his gospel:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
“Word” is the Greek word Logos. It suggests the Evolution 2.0 Prize, an award for the mystery of how chemicals produced code, is a search for the original Logos in the physical world.
People have been debating the Trinity question since the beginning of the first century, and in fact longer than that, because in Genesis God says “Let US make man in OUR image.”
God is plural. The prophets and writers are emphatic about this.
This question – more a question than answers per se – is intrinsic to the Old and New Testaments. No matter what you say about it, or how you might politically frame it, the question itself is always staring you in the face no matter what you do. It’s only an issue of how various people have tried to answer it.
In John 14 Jesus says “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Knowing that the Holy Spirit is the teacher and explainer of the WORD, I had an epiphany:
God the Father is analogous to encoder.
The Father is originator, the original intent; all mysteries are hidden in Him.
The Son is the expression of God, the WORD, the communication and expression of the intent.
The Spirit is the understanding of God, the decoding of the WORD and the effective communication of that intent.
Which means that on earth, all successful communication is a reflection of the nature of God: An idea, which is then expressed and communicated, then finally understood. All successful communication is a fractal expression of the nature of God.
This is the definition of love. Love is the desire for complete communication and complete knowing. Without degradation and without shame. The only way that is can ever be possible to say “GOD IS LOVE” (as in God=Love, an equivalency statement, not just a metaphor) is if God is plural; and if the origination, expression and understanding of God is in perfect, lossless agreement. No entropy.
So God, stated in terms that humans can understand, is three persons who are in total and absolute agreement. Total harmony. That is what it means to say “GOD IS LOVE.” This statement cannot be true unless there is some kind of Trinity.
It cannot be true in Islam, for example, because Islam dogmatically insists that God is absolutely one, that there is no plurality with God, and that God has no son.
And, as you know, Allah is not exactly depicted as love. Not normally anyway.
Any Muslim who describes Allah=love has borrowed this idea from Judaism or Christianity. Allah in the Koran is distant and inscrutable.
So circling back to the beginning of this, every instance of successful communication is an expression of the nature of God – whether it is lovers melding together in harmony or merely your cell phone successfully receiving a text message.
It suggests that an ultimate evolution is harmony and communication between all things.
It’s because the thing that harmonizes the most people has unbreakable power. Which is true because…. God is love.
Amazon reviewer Gordon posted this question:
Perry, why have you not referenced any of Stephen Meyer’s books (“Darwin’s Doubt” or “Signature in the Cell”) or William Dembski’s books (“Debating Design” or “Signs of Intelligence”)? Please respond.
In Chapter 17 of Evolution 2.0 I give a full explanation:
In 2009, the famous atheist Richard Dawkins published his thick, best-selling book The Greatest Show on Earth. In it, he states that evolution is driven by random changes in genes.
It is worth noting that in all of 450 pages of The Greatest Show on Earth . . .
- Symbiogenesis is never mentioned.
- Horizontal Gene Transfer is briefly touched on once, downplayed and presented as scarcely ever crossing from one species to another.
- Epigenetics gets one tiny footnote in chapter 8. He breezily shrugs it off as a “modest buzzword” and “confused theory that will enjoy 15 minutes of fame.” (At the time of this writing, “Epigenetics” is a major focus in genomics and appears 129,000 times in Google Scholar. The number of entries has doubled in the last two years—clearly a hot field of research.)
- Transposition is never mentioned.
- Genome Duplication is never mentioned.
Why didn’t Dawkins grant so much as three pages to the five best- documented mechanisms of evolution? Why does he act as though the last 50 years of microbiology and billions of dollars of research never happened?
Oxford University’s former “Professor of the Public Understanding of Science” wrote one of the most popular evolution books of the last decade, for which he received large advances and rode huge waves of media publicity.
So why isn’t he disclosing this?
On the other side of the fence, Stephen Meyer, in his pro–Intelligent Design book Darwin’s Doubt, makes an eerily identical set of omissions.
Epigenetics gets decent airtime, but there’s no explanation of Lynn Margulis’ work on Symbiogenesis. Barbara McClintock, Transposition, Horizontal Gene Transfer, and Genome Duplication are touched on only briefly, mostly in footnotes.
I debated Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute last year and afterward wrote a blog post called “Is Intelligent Design Really Just Old-Earth Creationism?”
Much of the scholarship in Meyer’s books is very good, but in the end he concludes that evolution and common descent are not true.
I firmly disagree.
Meyer and Dawkins are both missing the biggest story in the history of science. It’s the spectacular engineering capabilities of cells.
Most ID people immediately reply “Sure, but that engineering has to come from somewhere.” And I say: Yes it does have to come from somewhere, so I have a $5 million prize for finding out.
I’m searching for an ANSWER. Not just a philosophical framework.
And even if we give the ID guys the benefit of the doubt – let’s suppose all life does not come from a common ancestor, and life has appeared multiple times, even miraculously – they’re still taking an anti-evolution stance and missing the biggest story in science! After all, we DO observe dazzlingly sophisticated evolutionary steps every day, and we only understand 5% of what’s going on.
If the ID guys want to say the prize will never be won, they should make that bet. Someone should put skin in the game and set up a wager on www.longbets.org.
Similarly, any self-respecting atheist should vote that the prize WILL be won. It’s just a question of when. Atheists, place your bets. (If you believe naturalistic Origin Of Life is real science and not just pseudo-scientific myth-making.)
Meanwhile, no scientist can earn a dime by saying “God did it.” A scientist gets paid to understand exactly how evolution works. Right now we only have maybe 5% of the answer.
So while the ID guys point out many flaws in old-style evolutionary theory that I often agree with, ultimately they are out to win a philosophical argument more than they’re interested in furthering the science.
This is why I was in the ID camp ten years ago but am not now.
P.S.: A longbets.org wager is a great idea. Will anyone win the Evolution 2.0 Prize in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? 25 years?
Set up a wager and throw your hat in the ring.
“Pay the Prize”
The author writes: …then why don’t engineers use Darwinian evolution to design cars or write software? … I am offering an award to the first person who can discover a process by which nonliving thins can create code.
The answer is: that person already exists, his name is John Koza and his process is called “genetic programming”, which is used to design engines, pictures, music, computer code, etc by itself. You can learn buying the John Koza books here in Amazon. So, the author can pay the prize.
The author is missing the truth when he calls these developments “curiosities “. The truth is that they are used in many industries. By rejecting the already known, the whole argument of the book of collapse as a building of cards.
By trying to take advantage of the ignorance of both engineers and scientists of genetic programming, he only manages to show his own or even worse, his bad intentions, improper in a true scientist.
Engineers DO use Genetic Algorithms. But Mr. Sojo clearly did not read the book he is reviewing (!) because I devote chapter 25 of Evolution 2.0 to this very subject.
(His review is not a “Verified Purchase.” The majority of 1-star reviews never read Evolution 2.0. )
The problem is, none of these genetic algorithms operate strictly according to the rules of old-school Darwinian evolution.
In old-school Darwinian evolution, there are no pre-programmed goals, and mutations are random. To old school Darwinists, “Natural selection is the only game in town” to quote Jerry Coyne.
But the following are true of ALL genetic algorithms:
1) GAs never work unless you precisely define a “fitness function” in advance. The program is ALWAYS working towards a goal that a human has designed.
2) GAs never work unless the mutations are carefully controlled and constrained. You can’t randomly vary just any part of the program. If you’re designing car engines and you’re trying to optimize the diameter of the cylinders, then you have to introduce a variable called “diameter of cylinder” and adjust a collection of related variables together.
3) GAs never work without code that a person has programmed into the GA itself. Thus no existing GA could possibly qualify for the $5 million Evolution 2.0 Prize. The prize insists on chemicals to code with no cheating. All GAs cheat.
4) All GAs have to be babysat by highly-skilled, highly-educated, highly-paid, staff members.
5) GAs are little more than a footnote in the software industry. If you go to any software trade show or conference, you are unlikely to find more than one or two booths by GA companies. GA is no panacea. GAs are difficult to work with. Most GA startups have failed.
Often it is cheaper, faster and more straightforward to just hire a programmer and write the code from scratch than to try to rig up a GA. GAs are used for optimizing when you can define a goal and specific variables, when human engineering can’t predict the various combinations.
The limitations of GAs are superbly outlined on Wikipedia:
Now the most important thing I want to say is that the above line of argumentation is usually made for a creationist or traditional Intelligent Design position. This is usually anti-evolution.
That is NOT the argument I am making.
Because what almost everyone seems to ignore is the fact that we observe cells in real time generating resistance to antibiotics, producing hybrids, symbiotic mergers and new species all by themselves and doing it in real time.
Denis Noble of Oxford documents this very well in his book “Dance to the Tune of Life: Biological Relativity.”
Cells evolve. Organisms evolve. And they choose their own goals. The real punch line is that if we truly understood cells, biology and evolution, our GAs wouldn’t require babysitting by guys and gals with masters degrees in Computer Science.
GAs would evolve by themselves. The way cells do.
When Frontline Genomics interviewed me about the Evolution 2.0 Prize, I said, “Bacteria re-arrange their DNA to fight antibiotics in minutes. Cell AI is 1000X superior to anything from Silicon Valley. We need to discover what makes this possible. If Microsoft knew what bacteria know, their stock price would spike 10X.”
In Evolution 2.0 I describe how cells harness a toolkit consisting of Epigenetics, Transposition, Horizontal Gene Transfer, Hybridization, Symbiogenesis and virus activity to engineer new code all the time. GAs use very similar mechanisms.
If we truly understood evolution, if we weren’t just sweeping the world’s grandest mystery under a big rug called “random mutation and natural selection” or abdicating to “Intelligent Design” we would birth multiple billion-dollar industries.
I predict this WILL eventually happen. Eventually both of these camps will recede. This has to happen because if we don’t fully understand evolution, we’ll never understand cancer, disease, aging or AI. The rewards for people to figure this out are too great for the entrenched old-line positions to stay in place.
My book is subtitled “Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design” because the Darwinists say Chance did it (not the case) and the Design guys for the most part say evolution is a hoax and God did it.
Darwinists underestimate nature. Creationists underestimate God.
BOTH sides are preventing us from actually understanding the science. And both sides are wrong. The truth lies in the middle and it is far greater than either side comprehends.
I got this question from John:
Perry, I am a former Christian turned deist. I could not believe in the god of the Bible because of the Bible’s flaws and because of morality problems with how the Old Testament Yahweh is portrayed but I could not give up my belief that an Intelligence had to have jump-started all this and then put natural laws into place to guide it to where we are today.
I read your thesis and would like to comment on how much I enjoyed it. I think your strength is to take a basically simple message–cell design/replication is intelligently designed–and explain it in simple, no-nonsense, no-frills terms.
I liken what you say to the belief by some atheist biologists arguing that chance could explain billions of English letters floating in a giant bowl of soup and then spelling out the complete works of Shakespeare when it is poured onto a table, given enough time.
Just curious: have you ever been drawn to deism as a better explanation for the origins of life–an Intelligence that has no note of or concern about the unspeakable levels of suffering that goes on down here regardless of how many prayers are sent up to Him?
I can well relate to the disappointment that leads one to prefer a deist God over a personal one. And I can understand the scientific logic that nonetheless indicates a supreme level of order in the universe.
But even if I were to try very hard, I’m not sure it would be possible for me to be a deist. Because I have had too many direct personal spiritual experiences. Ignorance is bliss but you can’t un-learn a truth.
Just two trails you can follow for now, of my personal story:
Re: the Bible…
I think the Old Testament makes a great deal more sense if you look at it from an evolutionary viewpoint. The pivot point is the modern notion of equality, which I describe here:
The notion of equality of human beings simply did not exist anywhere in the human race before Jesus. I flesh this out in the link above.
I would argue that before Jesus the very possibility of equality didn’t even exist. It was a Darwinian world. Period. There was no law or rule that said when you fight your enemies you should not kill them dead and take whatever you want.
There was no equality between the Jews and the Canaanites. None whatsoever. Not in theory, not in practice. A person from 1000 BC listening to our horror at those wars would be utterly mystified.
The only reason that you have this notion of “Old Testament Genocide” is from New Testament equality and visions of peace.
For those reasons, you can’t hold Old Testament God to New Testament morality, because before 30 AD there was no basis for spiritual equality of human beings in the first place.
Human equality is entirely a metaphysical construct (it’s manifestly false from an experiential point of view after all), and it comes from Christianity.
In Christianity, ALL men (not just kings and queens and religious figures) can be literally regarded as sons of God; which suddenly causes “evolution” to mean something incomprehensibly different than it ever did before.
Equality post-Jesus might even mean that we attempt to provide free health care for everyone on earth.
No one in 1000 BC would have begun to imagine such a thing.