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 »
The Creation Research Society reviewed Evolution 2.0 shortly after it came out, then recently published a second, more extended review (11 pages, click to see the entire article). The editor adds: “This greatly extended review of an important book is warranted.”
Clearly they do not like the book, though they do indicate that had I trod a somewhat different path and come to conclusions more similar to their own, I would be warmly embraced. Thankfully their tone is very civil.
The review deserves a response. This video does so, while adding a great deal of very important back story which had never been told. Lengthy but worth the listen:
Watch the video and post your comments below!
You can listen to a highly abridged FREE audiobook of Evolution 2.0 by subscribing to the Evolution 2.0 Podcast; the featured chapters are in the podcast feed.
The question of purpose in nature has been hotly debated for a very long time. In his new book Is There Purpose in Biology?: The Cost of Existence and the God of Love, Denis Alexander explores the very long history with a fine toothed comb, then brings us up to date with recent biochemistry.
Richard Dawkins famously said, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” This comfortably fits the narrative of many people, especially atheists, but Dr. Alexander employs a kaleidoscope of information and sources to show us that the opposite is much more likely to be true.
His coverage of the topic is almost encyclopedic. He’s even sensitive to how fashions in Biblical interpretation and trends in philosophy and authority in antiquity shaped the way ancient people viewed science. He makes a case for the reformation changing the way people thought about science and knowledge.
For about 100 years now it’s been quite unfashionable for biologists to claim there is purpose in nature but this is clearly starting to change. JBS Haldane said, “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.” This statement is a smoking gun, because after all, is not a heart’s purpose to pump blood, that lungs are to breathe, noses are to smell?
Alexander goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks and explores this idea very thoroughly. He begins with history, then shifts to science, then considers theological implications. He proves a huge range of sources. He canvases ancient literature, evolutionary biology, non-random patterns in gene mutations, the optimality of the genetic code, convergence (re-appearance of similar or identical structures in far-flung parts of the tree of life), chance and statistics, biochemistry, the regularity of the laws of nature, and the capacity of nature to “take care of itself” – to self-regulate and self create.
He doesn’t try to force the reader to a conclusion and he’s not preachy. He allows you to think for yourself.
But he does make a pretty firm case that the indications fall far more in favor of “yes there is purpose in nature” vs. “no there is not.”
If I have a gripe about the book it’s exemplified in the following statement:
“The most commonly used meaning [of the word “random”] simply refers to the fact that genetic variation comes into the genome without the good or the ill of the organism in view. When you think about it, this is a rather banal and obvious definition. How could it be otherwise?”
I believe it is otherwise. We have mounting evidence that evolutionary changes, while by no means optimal 100% of the time, that organism re-engineer their own DNA in ways that are appropriate to the specific problems they are facing. Barbara McClintock discovered this in the 1940s and her findings were roundly rejected by her peers. But then she won the Nobel Prize in 1983. Her corn plants repaired specific areas of damage in order to reproduce.
Her Nobel Prize paper was called “The significance of responses of the genome to challenge.” She explored novel responses cells would make to completely novel situations, and compared them to routine situations in which cells produced something resembling error codes and predictable responses.
Much work along this line has been done since. For example at the university of Redding, scientists deleted the genes for the flagellum and when they came back after the weekend they found that an organism had repaired said genes and grown a flagellum.
So while making an outstanding case for purpose in biology, Alexander could have gone a bit farther. He gives too much credit to Neo-Darwinian ideas about evolution, and not enough to what is commonly called “The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis” which tends to acknowledge purposeful adaptations much more readily.
But this is just a minor criticism. It’s definitely a five-star book. It joins a chorus of related books like “Purpose And Desire” by J. Scott Turner.
Turning his attention to theodicy and theology, he says “the Bible contains no concept of “nature” as referring to the natural world – the word is nowhere to be found.”
Nor does the original Hebrew have a word for “Supernatural.” And while in English such terms are helpful, they potentially dissect and segment in a detrimental way.
A topic that he leaves alone is the subject of miracles. I would have appreciated an acknowledgement of a separation between natural phenomena and miraculous healings. But this would have made the book quite a bit longer and it’s understandable that he didn’t take it on. He would only tackle a subject like this if he could it thoroughly.
I liked this quote, which he pulled from his extensive reading:
“If single acts would evince design, how much more a vast universe, that by inherent laws gradually builded itself and then created its own plants and animals, a universe so adjusted that it left by the way the poorest things, and steadily wrought toward more complex, ingenious, and beautiful results! Who designed this mighty machine, created matter, gave it its laws, and impressed upon it that tendency which has brought forth almost infinite results on the globe, and wrought them into a perfect system? Design by wholesale is grander than design by retail.” (Mathisen, 2006, p. 386)
“When Christ took on human nature, the DNA that made him the son of Mary may have linked him to a more ancient heritage stretching far beyond Adam to the shallows of unimaginably ancient seas. And so, in the Incarnation, it would not have been just human nature that was joined to the Divine, but in a less direct but no less real sense all those myriad organisms that had unknowingly over the eons shaped the way for the coming of the human.”
I strongly recommend this book – I highlighted many sections.
Keep an eye peeled because Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio show and podcast will soon feature a conversation between me and Dr. Alexander.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers wrote a fantastic article about the Evolution 2.0 prize. Check it out here:
Rich Jacobs, founder of the FutureTech Podcast, is a long-time colleague. Rich interviewed me and sent me some interesting questions:
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:
“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.