Random vs. Stochastic Evolution

In most conversations about evolution, the words “random” and “stochastic” are used interchangeably. They are entirely different.

“Random” means absence of pattern and purpose.

“Stochastic” means:

The word stochastic in English was originally used as an adjective with the definition “pertaining to conjecturing”, and stemming from a Greek word meaning “to aim at a mark, guess”, and the Oxford English Dictionary gives the year 1662 as its earliest occurrence. (Wikipedia)

This conveys the flavor that “stochastic” carries in engineering, where there’s an entire field called Stochastic Control Systems.

A Southwest Airlines 737 flying from Boston to Baltimore is a stochastic control system. The wind is a random variable and the flight path is the goal.

The control system adjusts in response to random variables (wind) in order to land in Baltimore.

The plane’s control system aims at a mark, makes a guess, and corrects as it goes.

Random vs. Stochastic is not arcane quibbling about semantics. It is essential to accurately model evolution.

In Darwinian evolution, mutations were always traditionally assumed to be random; the only correction, or aim, is supplied by natural selection.

When my brother confronted me with this question in 2004, I thought, “In engineering I have never seen a system that is optimized only by replication, variation and selection. It always has some controlling or correcting mechanism.”

Was I wrong? Did the biologists know something I didn’t know? I guessed I might harbor all manner of erroneous notions. I was entirely willing to turn my worldview upside down if this was really true.

I discovered a bevy of error correction, editing, and adaptive systems employed by cells. Evolution is not driven by copying errors or “randomness” in the usual sense. Cells evolve because the cell is a stochastic control system that modifies its own genome in pursuit of its goals.

The real question is: Just how purposeful is this behavior? Denis Noble raised this question in his paper “Was the Watchmaker Blind? Or Was She One-Eyed?”

Noble doesn’t attempt an answer… but he does cite many examples of organisms adapting to the needs of threatening situations. In real time.

We don’t know how purposeful or directional evolution is. What do know is: In systems we do understand, like drones, computers, prosthetic arms, thermostats and guided missiles, “replication + random mutation + selection” are never sufficient to evolve any technology.

If replication + mutation + selection evolved technology, Genetic Algorithms would be all the rage in Silicon Valley. They are occasionally useful.

In his Algorithm Design Manual, Steven Skiena warns against genetic algorithms:

    [I]t is quite unnatural to model applications in terms of genetic operators like mutation and crossover on bit strings. The pseudobiology adds another level of complexity between you and your problem. Second, genetic algorithms take a very long time on nontrivial problems. […] [T]he analogy with evolution—where significant progress requires millions of years—can be quite appropriate.

    I have never encountered any problem where genetic algorithms seemed to me the right way to attack it. Further, I have never seen any computational results reported using genetic algorithms that have favorably impressed me. Stick to simulated annealing for your heuristic search voodoo needs.

    — Steven Skiena

30 years of engineering  are more than enough to convince me that evolutionary theorists are missing something very big (huge – massiveas big as Einstein’s theories) when they toss around words like random… and then refuse to define what they mean.

Eyes and ears and wings don’t emerge because chunks of DNA get randomly shuffled like a deck of cards. Something vastly more sophisticated is going on… right under our nose. Intelligent Design theorists are missing the same landmark discovery when they abdicate to “God did it.” Sure, I believe in God… but the true science has been bulldozed by both sides.

In her 1984 Nobel Prize paper, Barbara McClintock asked: What does a cell know about itself? This is one of the most profound and provocative questions in all of science. Even fragmentary answers promise great breakthroughs in medicine and technology.

We won’t get answers until we use precise language to describe evolution. It’s time to separate the signal from the noise.

By Anthony92931 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

By Abmcdonald (talk) (Uploads) – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Business Evolution 2.0 at Chicago Notre Dame!

Business Evolution 2.0 at Chicago Notre Dame!
How to Extract Business Secrets from Mother Nature
Perry Marshall with WBBM’s Cisco Cotto
Friday November 9, 2:45-5pm

Perry Marshall is an author, speaker, engineer, and business consultant. This is an invitation to sit in as he joins us in class at the University of Notre Dame’s Chicago Campus to speak about his book Evolution 2.0 and the research he conducted during the writing process.

Perry presents a basic easy-to-understand overview of nature’s evolutionary toolbox, of which most people have never heard, and translates it to business… We will do some live business problem solving!

Marshall’s book tackles the long debated concept of evolution and attempts to “break the deadlock between Darwin and design.” The basic idea is that symbiogenesis is literally the most powerful evolutionary tool in biology and it has many applications in business.

As a consultant, Perry takes off his business hat and puts on his biology hat to suddenly see problems much more clearly. You are in for a mind-bending talk… He will do a business symbiogenesis exercise that gets us asking questions that we probably wouldn’t have asked before.

Next up? You hear Cisco Cotto broadcast daily on WBBM Newsradio 78 from 10 until 3. You may also recognize him from assignments for some 20 years at WMAQ, WLS, WIND, and WMBI in Chicago. He has received awards for his work from the Associated Press, Chicagoland AIR Awards, Radio and Television News Directors Association, Chicago Headline Club, and the International Association of Firefighters.

On November 9, Cisco also takes off his day hat as broadcaster and shares his own insights on Evolution 2.0 gleaned from his studies and research since earning a degree at Moody here in Chicago.

Hosted by Gregory Hedges, Professor at Notre Dame Business School & Founding Partner, Protiviti Consulting

Notre Dame Chicago Campus
224 S Michigan Ave.
Suite 220

November 9, 2:45pm to 5pm

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE EVENT (Registration is required for admission)

Evolution 2.0 at Penn State University November 12, 2018

Where Did Life Come From?

#1 Question in the History of the Universe

Engineer offers $5 Million Prize

Perry Marshall at Penn State University’s Department of Electrical Engineering

Monday November 12, 1PM

Hub-Robeson Center, 2nd Floor – Room 233A/B, University Park, PA 16802


(Parking available at the HUB Parking Deck)

What does Electrical Engineering tell us about life’s origin? A lot! On Monday November 12, Entrepreneur, Author and EE Perry Marshall presents: DNA and the Genetic Code through the eyes of a communication engineer.

Perry grew up in a conservative Christian community; he was taught Young Earth Creationism in church. But when a crisis forced him to question everything, he applied Electrical Engineering to the problem.

This revealed a world of discoveries he couldn’t have imagined… and engineering served him well. Cells employ digital code, error correction, information processing and control systems.

These parallel and supersede human-engineered systems. One blade of grass is 10,000 years ahead of human technology.

This led him to organize a $5 million technology prize for Origin of Life and Artificial Intelligence, with judges from Harvard, Oxford and MIT. The prize was featured in IEEE Spectrum and is based on the discoveries of Claude Shannon, the legendary EE from Bell Labs who pioneered Information Theory.

Perry’s bestseller Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design brings fresh eyes to the 150-year old evolution debate. Bill Gates and the founders of Google revolutionized software and the web through their status as outsiders; similarly, Perry harnesses a communication engineer’s outsider’s point of view to reveal a century of unrecognized research and discoveries.

At Penn State, Perry will explore new frontiers of science research. He raises new questions that confront us in Artificial Intelligence and Genetic Engineering today.

Where did life come from? What happens if we crack the code? Find out at Penn State November 12.

Penn State University

Department of Electrical Engineering

Monday November 12, 1PM

Room 233AB Hub Building

The Evolution 2.0 Manifesto

1 All forms of evolution harness identical principles. (Technology, business, music, culture and biology.) Good science is good engineering. Any theory of evolution is a theory of engineering. You can test theory by applying it to technology. You do not understand any system until you’ve built it and it works.

The central question in biology is: “What does a cell know about itself?” Barbara McClintock asked this in her 1983 Nobel Prize speech. Life directs its own evolution.


There are three levels of causation:

  1. Chemicals = Universal laws of physics
  2. Codes = Local rules of language & logic
  3. Consciousness = Agency

Codes come from consciousness, not chemistry. Consciousness encodes information which controls chemistry. Codes are evidence of free will.


Living things are conscious agents. A cell is not merely a machine, it is an agent: a being with a capacity to act. The central axiom of life is consciousness. Definition: “In practice, if a subject repeatedly behaves in a purposeful, non-routine manner that involves the brief retention of information, she, he or it is assumed to be conscious.” -Christof Koch, from Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist.


Darwinian evolution reversed cause and effect three ways:

  1. Darwinism denied purpose, then indulged in endless contradictions to evade the obvious truth: Everything about life is purposeful.
  2. “Evolution by Natural Selection” is backwards. Evolution always occurs first. Otherwise there is nothing new to select.
  3. Darwinism claimed evolution is random events. This too is backwards. Evolution is purposeful response to random events.

These errors constitute the biggest mistake in the history of science.


The Evolution 2.0 Prize seeks to answer the most fundamental question in science that can be precisely defined: How do you get from chemicals to code? Origin of life, evolution, consciousness, free will and AI all converge in this single question.


Computers are not going to ‘wake up’ – and we’re not going to upload ourselves into ‘the cloud.’ Strong Artificial Intelligence does not exist. Strong AI cannot be achieved using traditional computer architecture. Strong AI will exist when someone solves the Evolution 2.0 Prize.


Evolution itself is proof of what all religions have asserted since the beginning of recorded history: Life is purposeful and special. A dead bird is no better than a rock; only live birds can fly. Life has agency. Agency invokes meaning and morality, questions science cannot address. There is no conflict between science and religion. Science asks how; religion asks why. We need both – especially now.

9 If the failures of Darwinism are imported into genetic engineering, the result will be worse than the atomic bomb. Darwinism dumbed down and trivialized nature. Some say we’re smarter than nature, proclaiming that evolution can now be guided for the first time. The truth: Nature is smarter than us. We can heal and repair life… and we must. But attempts to re-invent life will backfire.

Every breakthrough Silicon Valley seeks is found in the cell. If Microsoft knew what one bacterium knows, they would be the most valuable company in the world. One blade of grass is 10,000 years ahead of human technology.

A Letter (And Question) from Martin Rag Concerning Unchanged Organisms and Evolutionary Creation

Below is an email I just received from a reader of Evolution 2.0. I loved the insights in his email and at the end of it, he asked a great question about unchanged organisms and Evolutionary Creation.

So instead of responding privately, I thought I’d make this a public conversation for the rest of the community to enjoy.

Here’s the Letter:

Read more »

It’s Time to Tighten the Definition of “Random”

S. Joshua Swamidass is an associate professor in the Laboratory and Genomic Medicine Division at Washington University in St Louis. His research uses computational methods solve problems at the intersection of medicine, chemistry and biology.

Joshua and I have met at several conferences and had long discussions. He, like myself, is very interested in ending the war Read more »

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