Stephen Meyer Debates Perry Marshall – Intelligent Design vs. Evolution 2.0

“What Happened to Evolution at the Royal Society?”

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Debate – Perry Marshall vs. Stephen Meyer on the UNBELIEVABLE radio program & podcast with host Justin Brierley


Annotated transcript with additional videos, links, comments and resources by Perry Marshall at the bottom.

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Host Justin Brierley (JB): Today on the program we’re asking, “What happened to evolution at the Royal Society?”

My guests today are Stephen Meyer and Perry Marshall. It didn’t make front-page headlines across the world, but many biologists are saying that something quite exciting happened at the Royal Society in London last year. The Royal Society is one of the world’s oldest and most respected scientific institutions, and has been at the forefront of championing the theory of evolution.

But at its meeting in November 2016, New Trends in Evolutionary Biology—that was the name of the conference—many are saying the door was opened to potentially alternative explanations for the way life, in contrast to the standard Neo-Darwinian explanation of evolution by natural selection acting on random mutation.

Dr. Denis Noble, who hosted the conference, brought together leading voices in the so-called “Third Way” movement in biology. People like James Shapiro, Sonia Sultan, and Gerd Müller, whose research some people say has challenged the prevailing orthodoxy.

What does all this mean for the future of evolutionary theory? Does it open the door to things like Intelligent Design or a role for God in the evolutionary process? Or something else entirely?

Well, two people who were both there are joining me for Unbelievable today for what I’m sure will be a really interesting, scientific, philosophical and theological discussion.

Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute, well known as an advocate of Intelligent Design Theory and books like Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt. In fact he’s appeared on this program in the past to debate both of those.

Perry Marshall is my other guest. He’s the author of Evolution 2.0, a book which gathers much of the research being talked about at this conference, and suggests recent research in evolution doesn’t support either Neo-Darwinism or Intelligent Design, but what he calls a Third Way. I’ll let him introduce that when we come to him.

This should be quite an interesting and first-hand account of what happened at this particular conference and what it might mean. We’ll come to Perry in a moment, but before we do that welcome back to the program Dr. Stephen Meyer! How are you doing?

Stephen Meyer: I’m doing very well, Justin, thanks for having me, and thanks for having me on with Perry.

JB: The last time I spoke to you, Stephen, was also by phone. Shortly before you headed over to the UK to take part in a conference in Cambridge. This fell around the same time as this Royal Society conference, but you were coming over to be a speaker at a conference in Cambridge around the whole issue of Intelligent Design. Do you want to just give us a brief idea of how that went and what transpired there?

Stephen Meyer: Yes, we had a terrific week in the UK. In London, there were about twenty of the scientists from the ID research community worldwide who attended the Royal Society meeting. We had a private research meeting with those scientists, a number of PhD students and post-docs who were European-based the next day to work on collaborative research projects.

Then the following Saturday we had a public conference at one of the Cambridge colleges, Hughes Hall, called ‘Beyond Materialism’ where we were looking at what biology looks like if you don’t start with the assumption that methodological naturalism or materialism.

And making the case for Intelligent Design across a number of sub-disciplines of biology, showing how Intelligent Design provides superior explanatory power to a number of the phenomenon that we’re looking at—whether in the fossil record or genomics or at the level of molecular and cell biology. So, it was quite a stimulating week! Yeah, we had a great time.

JB: It sounds like you did. Do you think there is a groundswell of support for Intelligent Design in the UK?

Stephen Meyer: There’s quite a number of both senior researchers who are working on ID-based research projects, some of which we’re supporting, and a number of younger people who are at the PhD and post-doc level.

Worldwide, including the UK, there’s growing interest. Part of it is, of course, derivative of the growing openness in evolutionary biology itself to alternative approaches. Which was in evidence at the Royal Society meeting and is the reason we’re talking this morning

JB: Let’s move on to the Royal Society. I can imagine in those particular halls the term “Intelligent Design” is almost seen as a dirty word, so what is it they’re actually talking about? How do you think this plays into your particular field of expertise?

Stephen Meyer: You kindly have had me on before to talk about Darwin’s Doubt, the book I published in 2013 and 2014. In the prologue to that book, I made a statement that some people have found provocative. I said “rarely has there been such a great disparity between the popular perception of a theory”—and I was talking about Darwinism and its actual standing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

I made the claim that if you look closely at the technical literature in biology what you find is world-class biologists very openly expressing doubts about especially the creative power of the central mechanism of Neo-Darwinism, the mutation, natural selection mechanism.

This has been going on for quite some time. Yet when the theory is presented publicly, or to the public in policy statements by august scientific bodies like the American Association for the Advancement of Science or, up until now, the Royal Society on your side of the Atlantic; or by popularizers of science like Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne, Neo-Darwinism is still presented to the public as a theory which is beyond doubt. Indubitable.

As you look at the actual scientific literature, nothing could be further from the truth. Not just in biology generally, but in the relevant sub-discipline of Evolutionary Biology.

What was extraordinary at the meeting at the Royal Society in November is that many of the scientists who have been raising concerns about Neo-Darwinism in the deep scientific literature were allowed to do so in a public forum that garnered quite a lot of attention in the scientific press.

Now it’s beginning to percolate through even into the popular press. I think the question that arises out of the Royal Society meeting is: After Darwin, or after Neo-Darwinism, what next? Because I really think the theory is dead. There are very few technical defenders of the theory now.

Jerry Coyne will still weigh in to defend. There was a man Douglas Futuyma, who’s written a popular textbook in the United States, also an old line Neo-Darwinist, raising objections to the proceedings.

But if you look at what’s going on in the technical literature in evolutionary biology, evolutionary theory, there are very few defenders of Neo-Darwinism. It was, after all, back in 1980 that Stephen J Gould said “Darwinism is dead, except as textbook orthodoxy.” I think that’s ever more evident today. Especially after this very important conference.

JB: We’re going to dig into that a little bit more. Thank you for joining us on the line to talk about your experience being there and what you think it means for the future of science and biology. Perry, welcome back to the program! How are you doing?

Perry Marshall: I’m great! It’s great to be here on your show from Chicago, and it’s an honor to be talking about the Royal Society meeting.

JB: Yeah, so it must have been quite fun to be going along to this august institution. What did you make of it, in general what was your reaction to walking those particular halls and being there in person?

Perry Marshall: If you didn’t really know the background, you didn’t know what was going on, you would say ‘well, scientists are disagreeing about stuff. So what’s new about that?’

But if you are in the field and you understand it deeply, if you can read the tea leaves, it was the Protestant Reformation of Evolutionary Biology!

This would have never happened five years ago. It speaks to the sea change that’s going on. In fact, to continue the metaphor, Denis Noble pounded his thesis on the door and said hey, this dog don’t hunt.

Neo-Darwinism really is in serious trouble. It’s past its expiration date. It’s no longer enough to wave a little magic wand and say ‘natural selection, natural selection’ because what living things do is so amazing, and they do it in real-time.

This is the thing—evolution has traditionally been this millions and millions of years type explanation, and you need all of this time. When in fact—Sonia Sultan, and maybe we can get to this later, but Sultan told about plants adapting in literally real time and passing immediate changes to their progeny in one generation.

If you understand that evolution is a constant, 24/7/365 feedback between environment and organism, and the changes in some cases are passed on immediately, then you have this completely different view of evolution.

I felt like Forest Gump being there witnessing this happen, because I understood what was going on. It was really amazing.

JB: That’s the thing, I suppose different people can take away very different impressions of these things. What may have been to someone as sort of slightly dusty, dry sort of academic discussion, for you, as you say, feels like a revolution quite literally.

You say this couldn’t have happened five years ago. What’s changed in five years to mean that suddenly the orthodox view of neo-Darwinian is being questioned in this way?

Perry Marshall: I was talking to Eva Jablonka, she’s a very respected researcher from Israel, who is part of the Third Way movement, and she said, “You know I’ve been fighting these guys for a long time”—and she really has. She’s been considered a heretic by the old-school Neo-Darwinist guys.

But she said “Look, it’s one thing if one person like me is saying epigenetics is a big deal. But it’s another thing if the nutrition people are talking about it, and the fitness people are talking about it, and the cancer people are talking about it, and on and on and on.”

Epigenetics has become a household word for people in fitness and health and that kind of stuff. Because the genome is very dynamic, even though your genes themselves don’t have to change.

Epigenetics is like software menus that get greyed out and switch certain things on and off, something changes, then that greyed out thing gets switched back on. This is what happens.

So it’s not just one thing, it’s also this pop culture aspect I referred to. It’s also the fact that we’re now sequencing genomes all over the place, and we’re seeing more and more clearly what goes on.

Even the basic practice of medicine, fighting disease, cancer, tumors, all that kind of stuff, demands a completely different view of evolution than what the Neo-Darwinists have always told us.

Denis Noble, the organizer of the conference, is a physiologist. And he’s super famous in the medical field for making the pacemaker possible. It’s heart research. When they were figuring out how the cardiac rhythm works, from knocking out genes and seeing how it affected the behavior of the heart, he determined empirically there’s no way the Neo-Darwinist version of how genes work is true.

This change is driven by the fact that the outsiders, the voices of people on the outside of evolutionary biology have gotten louder and louder. The irony is that evolutionary biology itself, the core of the field, has been the most resistant to evolving their knowledge of biology of anybody. Which is kinda funny I think, but it’s true.

JB: We’re going to come back to you in a moment, Steve. First things first, we should really just define what this current orthodoxy that’s being overturned in your view is, when it comes to the Neo-Darwinian view of evolution. Then we’ll get into some of the issues around Intelligent Design and obviously Perry’s take on all of this.

And also what some of the old school are saying, the atheists like Dawkins and Coyne. They’re saying actually this conference proved absolutely nothing: ‘Our neo-Darwinian view is still perfectly intact.’ So we’ll be coming back to some of these questions.

You can find us online as well Leave a comment underneath today’s program or find your way to the Facebook and twitter account @unbelievablejb or and get in touch that way. Tell me what you think about our subject today on the program. We’re asking what exactly happened to evolution at the Royal Society last November.

So as we continue this conversation, I’ll ask you gents to keep your comments as concise as possible as we go forward so we’ve got some good back and forth between you in the rest of the program.

Steve, Neo-Darwinian evolution. Can you kind of quickly define it, and quickly explain why in your view so much of the research in the so-called Third Way movement in biology is overturning that particular paradigm?

Stephen Meyer: Neo-Darwinian evolution is the evolutionary theory that relies mainly on the mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutations. It asserts that this mechanism has the creative power, virtually unlimited creative power, to make the transformations that are described by Darwin’s great tree of life.

So that’s two parts. The historical part is something referred to as ‘the pattern’ – the pattern of a tree, which describes the idea of universal common descent. That all organisms are descended from a single common ancestor. And that the branching tree of life was produced by the mechanism of natural selection acting on adaptively random genetic variations. That’s the process part.

The process and the pattern together form neo-Darwinian theory. The process being the mechanism of mutation and selection, and the pattern being the Darwinian tree, which depicts the history of life, suggesting that all organisms are related by common ancestry.

What was really interesting to me at the conference was that the opening talk by Gerd Müller, who’s one of the leading developmental and evolutionary biologists, was very clear in laying out what he called the ‘explanatory deficit’ of Neo-Darwinism.

Neo-Darwinism is sometimes called the Modern Synthesis because it emphasizes Mendelian genetics with Darwinian evolutionary theory.

  • Müller said there were three key explanatory deficits. One was the origin of phenotypic complexity, the phenotype being the expression of the genes in actual anatomical structures. Things like the origin of eyes, ears, and the whole body plans or body architectures for animals in particular.
  • The second thing he said was an explanatory deficit was the origin of phenotypic novelty. Genuine complex organisms and new forms of organisms like bats, which would have echolocation or interesting anatomical innovation.
  • Then third was what he called the non-gradual form or modes of transition. That is referring to the abrupt appearance of major new body plans and modes of biological organization in the fossil records.

So those were the three things that defined the crisis in Neo-Darwinism. We can’t account for complexity, we can’t account for novelty, and we don’t know why things emerged so abruptly in the fossil records.

JB: This is the drum you’ve been banging for a long time, especially in the book Darwin’s Doubt, which specifically majors on the fact that all these sudden body plans emerged relatively quickly in the course of history, in the Cambrian Explosion and so on.

So I guess you’ve been following this evidence for a long time yourself, but this is the first time you’re seeing it genuinely put on the table in this kind of a setting?

Stephen Meyer: Yes, in this kind of a public conference setting. It’s been publicly expressed in the scientific literature now for quite a while. I think it was refreshing, Perry and I shared this, that all of this is suddenly public.

I would qualify a little bit the way you phrased the question—I don’t think what’s driving this is the Third Way mechanisms that are being proposed. Whether those mechanisms solve these problems that were laid out by Müller is I think a very important question to address. Because I don’t think they did or do.

I think what’s driving it is actually the phenomena of biology itself. The fossil record, certainly, but also the kinds of things we’re learning about the primacy of information, digital information stored in the DNA and other forms of information; and epigenetic forms of information that are necessary to build the new body plans.

So if you want to build something that’s fundamentally new, an anatomical innovation, a novelty, you’ve got to have a lot of new information of various kinds to do that and the mutation selection mechanism does not seem to have that creative power for a whole bunch o reasons—ones I think quite intuitive to most people with a computer background.

If you’ve got a section of functioning code and you start randomly changing the zeros and ones, you’re going to degrade that information long before you ever get to a new operating system or program.

Yet Neo-Darwinism is essentially saying that random changes in a section of digital information can generate the new information you’d need to build new structures and new forms of life.

For lots of reasons, people don’t think that’s credible.

JB: I’d be interested in bringing you in at this point, Perry—obviously Stephen is saying it’s great that they’re pointing out the problems, we’ve been seeing those problems all along as well. Not sure that their answers though are up to much coming from the Third Way, as they’re called, biologist people like James Shapiro.

You’ve certainly looked at his work a great deal, and others too. Do you think that what is being proposed in terms of alternatives to Neo-Darwinian mechanisms are valid ways of looking into it, and whether the apparent intelligence in things like the cell and so on can be explained that way?

So what do you think? Do you think that the Third Way explanations are any good in their own way?

Perry Marshall: I think they are a really good start. I refer you to a guy named David Prescott, who Jim Shapiro talks about in his work. Prescott put a protozoan under stress, and it spliced its own DNA into 100,000 pieces, rearranged it and made significant changes to its physiology in a matter of hours.

Or, for example, experiments on symbiogenesis where they actually have gotten microorganisms to merge together in real time, a cell inside a cell. Symbiogenesis is the theory that the chloroplast, which every kid learns about in biology school, is actually a blue-green algae that merged with a plant cell.

It’s like a Starbucks inside a Marriott Hotel lobby. They’ve done experiments where they’re gotten cells to merge together like that.

Now, if you stop and really think about what’s going on–you can’t drop a Starbucks out of a helicopter onto the roof of a Marriott and have a beautiful coffee shop in the lobby the next day. There’s a tremendous amount of choreography that must happen between all the parts.

What we see is that living things actually do this. So I think these mechanisms that the Third Way people are advocating, which in my book Evolution 2.0 I refer to as ‘The Evolutionary Swiss Army Knife’, I think these mechanisms go a long way in explaining this.

I would make one caveat and ask for one element of amnesty. Because you can always find something that we haven’t explained well at this point. I would just say: part of the problem is that evolutionary biology has been running on the wrong set of rails for 70 years, and 90% of the scientists have been looking in the wrong places. Or else making up stories about natural selection to fig-leaf hide their inability to explain things.

I think now we’re actually getting on the right track.

JB: What’s your problem with Stephen’s perspective? I understand you don’t go down his road which is: Well, there’s some kind of design inference here, that these kinds of systems have to have information of very detailed level put into the system from outside in some way.

Do you not sort of go with that kind of particular way of looking at things?

Perry Marshall: Ten years ago I would have been solidly in Stephen’s camp. In 2005 I gave a fairly famous talk called “If you can read this I can prove God exists.” And I think I’ve got as good a God of the gaps argument as anybody, which is:

1) DNA is code

2) All the other codes are designed

3) Therefore DNA’s designed

I even have a 3-million-dollar technology prize for solving this, which is a very serious prize because we really are looking for a solution.

I used to use this as a God of the gaps argument. I am very reluctant to do that now. The reason why is, because gaps keep getting solved, and every time a gap gets solved – if you were believing in God for that particular reason, all of a sudden the rug got pulled out from under your feet.

But the other thing is every time one of these gaps gets solved, the universe itself becomes more elegant than it was before.

There’s a very important story where Isaac Newton worked out his math of all the planets, and he said “Well, the math says they’re going to wander off course after a period of time. So I guess God probably pushes them back in place.”

Laplace came along later, and he fixed the math. “No, you don’t need God to push the planets back in place, you just didn’t quite have the formulas right.”

I’m very reluctant to do God of the gaps when in fact living things and the universe and everything are so remarkable, they still demand an ultimate explanation. But I feel the Discovery Institute Intelligent Design approach conflates immediate mechanisms with ultimate explanations in a way that’s not very helpful.

I want to read you an email that I got from a scientist that illustrates this. He said to me:

“We both see the fault in the current paradigm. The art is to convince the bio-medical research community that there’s a better way. I’ve been struggling with this issue more than 15 years now. I’ve been publishing and chairing meetings both in the U.S. and Europe. My own sense is that there’s fear in the group that if they blink on the subject of Darwinian Evolution, the ID people will literally and figuratively eat their lunch. So the task is to switch to another paradigm while sustaining the existing one.”

He sent me that a couple years ago. I think that summarizes that the typical working evolutionary scientist feels is a threat to them doing their job.

JB: Okay, we’re going to take a quick break, then I’m going to let Stephen respond because you’ve said you don’t take the same approach that the Discovery Institute and people like Steve Meyer take. And I’d like to hear his response on this as well.

We’re asking what exactly happened to evolution at the Royal Society, at the conference in November that was titled “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.”

Continuing to talk to two experts in the area—Stephen Meyer and Perry Marshall.

This week’s edition of ‘Unbelievable’ is brought to you in association with Premier Christianity Magazine. If you want to get a free sample copy of the mag, then do go online to Always loads of interesting features, interviews, articles, news, culture and much more besides. All brought to you as part of faith explored here every Saturday at Premier Christian Radio.

Right now we’re talking about evolution, biology, Christianity, and whether there’s a new paradigm emerging. And what happened to evolution at the Royal Society last November. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, who is well known as an advocate of Intelligent Design theory, joins me.

Steve’s books Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt have already been debated on this program. Perry Marshall is the author of Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design, and in many ways is very enthusiastic about what happened at the Royal Society.

This was a meeting that really pushed forward and put Neo-Darwinism to the test. It was a discussion and conversation on how other ways of understanding evolution compare to the traditional, off the shelf neo-Darwinian perspective.

So, Stephen, in that last section, Perry’s saying for his money he doesn’t go down the route you take, the Intelligent Design route. What he says in the end, for him it is a God of the gaps type of argument, but when you close the gap your argument for God goes away.

In a way, there’s something to be said for the elegance of what is being discovered more and more in nature, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s just random, but that there’s something very interesting and peculiar going on.

What’s your take on this? Obviously you do think that Intelligent Design is the best of the explanations out there, for what increasingly people in the secular scientific world are discovering.

Stephen Meyer: Yeah, absolutely. We think the elegance that’s being discovered in living systems is evidence of design. We don’t think it’s a god of the gaps argument. [COMMENT #1] Mine is a best explanation based on our experience argument.

We’re not arguing for Intelligent Design based on what we don’t know, but we do know about the cause and effect structure of the world. Namely that large infusions of large information always come from intelligent agents, whether we’re talking about a computer program or hieroglyphic inscription or a paragraph in a book. Information is known in our experience to be produced by one and only one type of cause and that is intelligent agent.

Interestingly, Perry makes this same argument in his book, and it’s a wonderful part of the book. He lays out the case that all codes are created by conscious mind and therefore the code in DNA must have been created by a conscious mind.

He makes that point on page 192 of his book. That section of the book I agree with very much. In fact that is a design argument, it’s not a God of the gaps argument. So what he’s offering I think is not so much a Third Way, but rather a hybrid.

He’s comfortable making the case for design as the best explanation of the code in DNA at the point of the origin of the first life. [But I also offer a technology prize for someone who can solve chemicals-to-code. I believe the prize is winnable. –Perry]

But when it comes to biological evolution as opposed to chemical evolution, he thinks that these Third Way mechanisms are sufficient or promising enough, that we ought not consider design as an explanation after the point of the first life.

I part company there. I’d like to explain why.

I also think Shapiro’s work is extremely interesting, and it’s certainly cutting some new ground in biology. What Shapiro is talking about—and I discuss Shapiro’s work and five of the other Third Way mechanisms that have been proposed, these non-neo-Darwinian mechanisms of evolutionary change—in Darwin’s Doubt in two of the key chapters of the book.

What I show there is invariably what is going on is these new mechanisms either presuppose unexplained sources of information, or they simply don’t explain the origin of necessary information to get real anatomical novelty. In other words, there are limits on what these mechanisms can produce.

Take Shapiro’s work. He’s describing ways in which organisms respond in real time to environmental stresses. Then they produce a response in the way that either they express pre-existing genetic information, or the way they ramp up the mutation rate in very specific parts of the genome to explore possibilities that are already latent in the genetic information.

So what he’s talking about is a kind of pre-programmed adaptive capacity which he says is under “algorithmic control.”

That’s all extremely cool. It is very elegant the way organisms can do that, but the question that Shapiro doesn’t address is: where does the pre-programming come from? Where does that algorithm come from? There’s a higher level of informational programming at work that’s presupposed in this whole process that he doesn’t attempt to explain.

My concern about using this as an explanation for the whole of what we see in biological evolution is two-fold. First, you can’t really propose that all this information is already in all these different organisms, and every organism has its own preprogramming to respond in different ways according to its organismal needs.

I don’t think it’s plausible to say that all this information could have been front-loaded in the circular chromosome of the bacterial cell at the point of the origin of life. Clearly you’re going to need additional information at discrete points along the biological timeline. [COMMENT #2]

Just getting from prokaryotes and eukaryotes requires an extensive reworking of the whole system of storage of genetic information. But secondly, and I think this is really a key thing, this is one of the key problems, it is the problem of epigenetic information.

Not all the information to build a body plan is in DNA. DNA codes for building proteins, but proteins have to be organized into bio-synthetic pathways that would characterize different kinds of cells and cell types.

Different cell types have to be organized into different tissues. Different tissues have to reorganize into different organs.

And organs and tissues have to be organized into whole body plans. The information for doing that is not solely in the DNA. Higher levels of information stored elsewhere are required to organize all those different levels of the biological hierarchy. [COMMENT #3]

Shapiro is focusing on Natural Genetic Engineering, and has said he might get novel proteins out of this, but he’s not going to explain the origin of a body plan. And that’s the really crucial question biologically. Where did that higher-level invocation come from?

I don’t think these mechanisms really solve those problems. In fact I think that in principle they’re not sufficient to do so, because they don’t account for this higher level of organization that’s necessary.

JB: Just before we come back to Perry, this email he received which said basically they don’t want to open a door to Intelligent Design. They’re going to keep the Darwinian version in the textbooks until they’ve worked out what’s going on in reality, in the scientific research and everything. What’s your take?

Stephen Meyer: Well, absolutely, but that’s a statement of metaphysical panic. They don’t want to consider something that would take them outside of a naturalistic framework. [COMMENT #4]

By the way, that same panic was in evident at the meeting. At one point Eva Jablonka was under pressure from one of the old line Neo-Darwinists in her talk. The Neo-Darwinist said no, we don’t need to consider these alternatives. Eva said unprompted I’m not talking about God! God was the elephant in the room.

But an alternative perspective that you don’t like for metaphysical reasons is not a scientific justification for claims about the creative power of mechanisms that have yet not demonstrated that creative power. We need actual demonstrations.

I agree with Perry that this is really cool stuff, and I do think it speaks incredible elegance of organisms, but I don’t think it solves the problem macro-evolution.

JB: Okay let me come to you again, Perry. Firstly, do you agree that God was the elephant in the room with the people desperate both in the Third Way camp and in the traditional camp to make sure that no one gets wind of any idea that we’re talking about anything supernatural here?

And then we’ll come on to talk about what Stephen had to say about your particular way of looking at these issues.

Perry Marshall: There were a few moments where you got that impression. Definitely, the elephant in the room showed up a couple of times. For the most part, that wasn’t the case though. Because I don’t think that’s actually what was on most people’s minds.

So when this scientist sends me this email—see, I think that the Discovery Institute pits theology against science in an unnecessary way, and we have to pull apart two different issues.

There’s origin of life vs origin of species. Now origin of life, the truth is there’s not a lot that you can say about it that properly qualifies as science. It’s a big freaking mystery. We can come back to that later if you want.

But what the conference was about was: Where does all this new stuff come from? Now if you look at things like horizontal gene transfer and epigenetics purely as mechanisms and if you think of them the way you think of how a computer operates, Stephen is right.

However, there’s something that I want everyone to consider and it’s this: Stephen, a lot of people in the Intelligent Design community are information theorists—well, so am I. I wrote an Ethernet book. Now, if you want to create new information here’s what you have to do:

You have to be able to choose from two things, and it has to be a choice not a random accident.

So I’ll give you an example. If I have an existing dictionary, if I use random processes or just computer algorithms, I can’t really produce brand new language. However, with the auto-fill on my phone—I can text my brother. And right away when I open the text thing it says I-YOU-YES and I can select “you” and then CAN-ARE-SHOULD. And I can select “should” and then BE-DO-TALK.

So I’ve typed “you should talk.”

Now if I pick between those choices based on my environment, I can create novel information and novel structures. I would propose to you that a cell is something like a quantum computer with a linguistic engine, and it can respond to the environment and create something new that never existed before.

Why? Because it is not merely a mechanism, it is a self that is doing what it needs to do to maintain homeostasis and to survive and to thrive and to do whatever, to eat lunch or whatever it’s trying to do. [COMMENT #5]

I think this is what has been overlooked. Now this is going to make a Neo-Darwinist extremely uncomfortable. But if you look at what cells do, if you look at what living things do, it’s obvious that they’re doing something like this.

I would like to suggest to you that if a protozoan can rearrange its DNA into 100,000 pieces and not only still work, but actually be better off than it was before, and if it can do that in 12 hours, then what can happen in ten years or twenty years or a million years?

This is the approach I believe we should be taking with the Cambrian. Because if somebody says “I can’t explain the Cambrian, God did it, let’s go take a three martini lunch…” a scientist can’t get a paycheck for saying that.

Scientists are never running out of layers of the onion to peel, so I think jumping all the way to the elephant in the room is a problem.

I think having God as an ultimate explanation—Why are the equations symmetrical? Why is all of this so elegant? I think that’s a much better way to understand God, and it’s more in keeping with the way the classical scientists, Maxwell and Copernicus. It’s closer to how they viewed God.

JB: Do you want to respond to that, Stephen?

Stephen Meyer: You bet. Well first Perry’s own way of describing the process was revealing. He said “If I choose based on environmental conditions, I can create novel information” and all these computer simulations that are used to demonstrate the creative power of various evolutionary mechanisms invariably do so because of programming that’s been supplied in advance by the chooser, by the intelligent programmer.

So the kind of things that organisms are doing in Shapiro-type demonstrations are by Shapiro’s own accounting of these under algorithmic control—there’s a preprogramming in there.

I’d be very reluctant to go down the kind of nature mysticism and attribute higher order of conscious agency, let alone almost omniscient about environment, to a protist. And so I think that’s something that we to need caution against.

We’re not pitting science vs theology. We’re saying that science, and I mean good science, points to design. Therefore science may have implications that are friendly to theology, but this isn’t a theology-based argument.

We’re not arguing for God, we’re arguing for evidence of an intelligent agency or mind, based on our uniform and repeated experience, that it is to say, based on the same method of scientific reasoning that Darwin himself used in the Origin. Which is to look at our present knowledge of cause and effect and see what that tells us about what the most plausible explanation for the causes of events in the past might be.

Our present knowledge of cause and effect confirms, whether it’s in computer simulations of these generation of information, or origin of life simulation, you need a mind to generate new information. So I think that’s not what we’re doing.

Thirdly, as far as the scientist deriving their paychecks. The most important obligation that the scientist has is to find the truth. It is simply that we want to find the truth first and foremost, but it is a matter of the heuristic value of different scientific approaches.

We think Intelligent Design has tremendous heuristic value, that is to say it can lead to new discoveries. If you infer that design was at work or an intelligence was at work in producing a system, you’re going to look at it differently.

For example, we predicted very early on that the junk DNA was not junk. We did that on the basis of an ID perspective. The neo-Darwinians thought that the non-coding regions in the genome were the natural, expected result of random changes accumulating the flotsam and jetsam of the evolutionary process accumulating over time.

It was just what they expected—that 3% would be functional the rest would be residue of the trial and error process.

We’ve looked from an ID perspective said the opposite. We said: “Look, we accept that mutations are real processes, but we wouldn’t expect that the signal should be dwarfed by the noise. So we expect to claim function in that allegedly non-functional region that vast allegedly non-functional region with genome.”

Lo and behold, over the last ten years, and especially with the publication or the Encode Project, our ID perspective has been borne out. And in fact Jim Shapiro, one of the scientists who was writing papers with him on this, gave credit to Rick Sternberg. He said Richard Sternberg, formerly of the Smithsonian, and one of our ID colleagues, was the first guy to see this.

And Shapiro said so in the Huffington Post of all places. That’s just one of many examples where ID has heuristic value. It anticipates certain things: You’re going to get in, you’re going to look at it, you’re going to try to figure out: What is the functional logic? What can I be expecting to find here that’s going to make this work in accord with a rational plan?

So we think this is the science-stopper, but it’s a science-starter.

JB: We’ll leave that just there for the moment. I do want to, excepting that obviously I’m sure Perry would want to come back on that, maybe we’ll get time later on. I do at least want to bring in the perspective given by someone who does still hold to the neo-Darwinian perspective on evolution.

Jerry Coyne wrote a blog about the conference in which he concluded by saying:

Modern evolutionary theory is not in trouble, far from it. Maybe sometime a new paradigm will come around, but this isn’t it. The noise we heard from London, outside a few papers from people like Douglas Futuyma (a textbook author in line with Coyne’s view) is the noise of Templeton’s prize horses jockeying for money and fame.

He’s got a thing about how it’s all the Templeton Fund that is basically funding the people who are putting these alternative theories forward. But just to pull out some of what Coyne says in the blog, to kind of back up his points.

For instance, when it comes to plasticity, which is this idea of organisms adapting in real time to their environment, which you’ve been saying, Perry, is a classic example of the way the neo-Darwinian paradigm can’t account for these things. Coyne says:

As is well known, organisms can change their appearance, behavior and physiology depending on their environment. Some of this is simply a shock response, with no adaptive value, while other forms of plasticity are evolved adaptations that reside in the DNA—cats grow longer fur when it’s cold, or rotifers develop predator-deterring spines when put in water with fish odor, etc. but the new paradigmists say that non-adaptive plasticity can actually initiate an adaptive evolutionary change. It’s really not clear how this would happen.

And I’ve heard this similar kind of thing from others, saying this doesn’t show that Neo-Darwinism is false, it just shows that there’s more stuff going on. There’s stuff in the organism that’s ready to adapt when it happens.

But the Neo-Darwinians say that very ability to adapt is a result of the standard neo-Darwinian process. Which makes them suitable for being able to adapt quickly in that kind of real-time way.

Later he gives an example of a conversation that took place between Denis Noble and David Shuker.

There, Shuker says of a particular experiment, that the conclusion of the experiment was the scientist saying “our results demonstrate that natural selection can rapidly rewrite regulatory networks.” So they say it’s a perfectly, beautiful example of rapid neo-Darwinian evolution.

There’s a lot to get your head around there. I hope those at home are following along! But essentially it boils down to people like Jerry Coyne who absolutely disavow anything that might even smell of something supernatural. And I think they think this stuff smells a bit supernatural, saying it can all be accounted for in the end by what we’ve always known and loved. Which is the neo-Darwinian synthesis.

Perry Marshall: Natural selection only explains that things die. When somebody says natural selection rewired that microorganism, that is non-explanation. Somebody explain to me how natural selection rewires a bunch of genes!

And, by the way, he’s talking about an experiment where they deleted the genes for a bacterial flagellum, and four days later the organism had rebuilt those genes, presumably by restructuring information from the regulatory networks. And then the bacteria grew tails and they went back to swimming and finding food. They did this in four days.


Well, what a Neo-Darwinist will always say is “Oh yeah, well natural selection did that.” Well natural selection is not a creative mechanism. Natural selection is when things die and other things stay alive—that’s it!

This is what they do, and so yes it’s not clear how. So the Neo-Darwinists want to say “well, randomness did that.” Randomness does not do that.  I’m an electrical engineer, I know this, okay?

Then on the other side, you have “well, God did that,” but when you come to something like the Cambrian, you come down to either God injected new species or new information and did some kind of a divine thing… or else the organisms did, because cells are in some sense intelligent. The organisms did this.

The thesis of Evolution 2.0 is: Darwinists underestimate nature, and Creationists underestimate God. I would put the ID / Discovery Institute crowd in that same camp. Stephen, I propose to you you’re underestimating what Life is capable of, and whether life itself is a literal, divine miracle, or if it’s actually the way it is because the universe is tuned to a million decimal places instead of 120.

Whichever explanation it is, I really think, Stephen, that you’re underestimating nature and you’re doing so in a way that takes a job away from a scientist.

JB: Go ahead, Stephen.

Stephen Meyer: Investigative journalists are told to “follow the money.” Biological scientists and computer scientists interested in biology follow the information.

The reason these changes can happen so quickly was alluded to in Perry’s own words. He talked about the restructuring of the information in the regulatory network. That doesn’t happen magically. It’s not happening randomly.

Shapiro’s right, if it were happening randomly it would take a whole lot longer than it’s happening. The only reason it can happen that quickly is that there is pre-existing programming, pre-existing algorithmic control, pre-existing information that’s making that restructuring possible in response to an algorithmic if-then subroutine.

The organism gets a signal from the environment, it says I need to restructure my genome in accord with the needs I have for survival. That ability to do that is pre-programmed. That’s the locus of the design inference. Where does that pre-programming come from? It’s not mysticism, it’s not magic, there must be information there.

So the locus of design for us is the origin of the information that makes that process possible.

Shapiro doesn’t address that question, Perry doesn’t either, and for that reason I don’t think we have a Third Way here, I think we just have people who are not addressing the fundamental question of the origin of information after the key question of the origin of life.

I love what Perry says about the origin of life, it’s absolutely right. But that question of the origin of information doesn’t go away as you ascend up the biological hierarchy.

There are new informational needs if you’re going to account for the origin of your organs, tissues, complex molecular machines, and especially whole body plans such as you find in the Cambrian.

I’ll again repeat the point that you can’t get higher-level body plan structure out of genetic information alone. So when you have these mechanisms like horizontal gene transfer or natural genetic engineering, they’re not going to give you that level of complexity.

At best they’re going to give you some new proteins. So there are real limits to what these mechanisms can do. They’re demonstrable. It’s really cool science, I agree that it’s a necessary amendment to Neo-Darwinism; I understand why Coyne and others are upset because they are being passed by; but I don’t think the Third Way solves the information problem.

That’s not a matter of God of the gaps or anything else, it’s a matter of doing some fundamental science and tracing the information flows. If you trace them back to your source, you get the singularities where no evolutionary mechanism accounts for the origin of the programming as necessary.

JB: Really interesting discussion—Dr. Stephen Meyer, who is of course part of the Discovery Institute, one of the leading voices in Intelligent Design theory. We’re talking about this recent Royal Society conference that happened here in London. Has it overturned the neo-Darwinian view of evolution?

It is the beginning of a revolution as far as my other guest Perry Marshall is concerned as well. My guests, though, disagree on what the essential implications of that are for Intelligent Design Theory, or whether there are other ways of explaining the origin of these adaptive features of nature and cells and so on.

Perry Marshall’s book Evolution 2.0 is very much along those lines. We’ll be hearing him again defend his thesis that you don’t have to go down the Intelligent Design route to see that there is an elegance and there’s something that may be derived from God, but not in a strictly direct way.

I’ll be interested in pressing into that a bit with you in a minute, Perry, as well. And we’ll see what you have to say as well—don’t forget that your thoughts are welcome as well in regards to what you hear on today’s program. You can email [email protected].

I’m here with Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, well known as an advocate of Intelligent Design theory. Perry Marshall, author of Evolution 2.0, a book which very much delves into some of the issues we’ve been uncovering, around whether the neo-Darwinian framework for evolution has been kind of finally upended by the work of people like James Shapiro, Gerd Müller and others who were present for this particular conference.

It’s provoked quite a bit of backlash as well among those who are still holding to a strict neo-Darwinian view of things. We heard about Jerry Coyne’s blog a little bit earlier one. But, generally speaking, Perry, when it comes to this, I’m hearing lots of excitement from different angles.

It’s come up in conversation on different editions of Unbelievable. We’ve had Doug Axe, a colleague of Stephen talking about the conference, who was there as well. Then in a recent edition of the program Wayne Rossiter, who has also published a book critical of the neo-Darwinian view has been talking about the fact that this seems to represent a new front in scientific discovery.

As I’ve said, a lot of people think the most obvious root that this points to is Intelligent Design of some kind. I think a lot of people struggle to differentiate what you’re talking about in your book from Intelligent Design.

I think as Stephen has put it quite well, you seem to agree to some extent on the DNA, the first life first coming into existence seems to have a precursor in Intelligent Design. But he says you know at the end of the day you can’t get away from the inference to intelligence as well—with all of these mechanisms you’re talking about, there has to be information put into the system. Even if it’s kind of there in the cell and it’s acting on some kind of algorithm that makes it respond to the environment around it.

Someone’s got to be putting in the information in that makes that possible. In the end I guess he’s saying, Perry, “You’re just as much an Intelligent Design advocate as I am,” so what’s your response to that?

Perry Marshall: The origin of information problem has not been solved. This is why I have a technology prize. I think there’s key difference though. I advocate intelligent design, lower case “i” lower case “d” in the broadest sense. That the universe is an amazing place and it speaks to something even more amazing than that having created it.

But, again, I’m extremely reluctant to make God of the gaps arguments.

JB: So how do you solve these problems? Or what framework do you propose?

Perry Marshall: Well, here’s the framework that I propose—I propose that the cell is an agent. There’s a wonderful book by Bob Lanza called “Biocentrism” which makes an extremely robust case that the universe is a consciousness first, matter second phenomenon. Not the other way around.

I would like to suggest to the Intelligent Design community that if you want to defeat to scientific reductionism (which I agree needs to be done; science is not reductionist and biology is not reductionistic) then what you need to do is:

Instead of fighting macro evolution, you need to embrace it. Because what we don’t know is how smart those cells actually are.

A bacterium can do more software engineering in twelve minutes that a team of Google engineers can do in twelve weeks. This happens all the time in your body. That’s why you have to finish your antibiotics, because if you don’t kill those suckers dead, you’re in real trouble.

I take the position I take, because if I take the old school Neo-Darwinist position I will lose market share every year as more and more things turn out to be orderly instead of random.

If I take the creationist or Intelligent Design / Discovery Institute position, I will lose ground every year as they explain more and more evolutionary steps with observable processes.

But if I take the Third Way view, my market share will grow and grow because the explanatory power of an integrationist, non-reductionist paradigm which also considers consciousness.

This can in principle explain what’s going on at the high level, but it gives a scientist something to actually do. So I’m making a predication that over time we are going to continue to explain more and more of the developments in taxa from species… and everything like that.

I think the next 20 years are going to be fantastic, and I think people in technology can learn a tremendous amount from biology.

JB: it’s always fun to hear you speak, Perry, because the terms you use, the analogies often do come from both your technical background and your marketing background. In any case, it’s been great having you on the program. I’m going to finish up with Stephen now.

Stephen, thank you very much for being on the program today. I’m going to post links from today’s show to both of your websites and indeed from the posts that have come both from the Discovery Institute and from Perry himself with the different responses that you had to what this particular conference meant.

You’ve heard why Perry feels in the end Intelligent Design, which is sort of lumped in with creationism, doesn’t offer a satisfactory overall explanation. For him there’s something about the nature of the universe, the way that everything is done in such a way that these cells can have almost their own consciousness almost, it would appear. That doesn’t sound like the route you particularly want to go down, Stephen? You seem to be saying no…

Stephen Meyer: Well, yeah I think that’s actually another form of Intelligent Design—he wants to attribute agency, conscious agency in fact, an almost omniscient form of conscious agency to the bacterial cell itself. So really the question is the locus of the intelligence. [COMMENT ON “OMNISCIENT”]

If you want to get information you’ve got to have intelligence. Perry makes that argument very concisely in his discussion of the origin of life. He’s applying it in an interesting way when you get to higher levels of biological evolution and imputing the intelligence to the biological cell or organism itself.

I have just a little thought experiment for your audience. I think most of us would agree that we’re smarter than bacteria, [COMMENT #6] but we in our conscious minds have no idea how to respond to various environmental stressors to rewrite our DNA to express different proteins under different circumstances.

So if this isn’t done by our conscious awareness, [COMMENT #7] then there must be some pre-programming that is enabling the cell or the organism to do this. I think that’s what’s really going on. In fact, I think a lot of experiments that we’ve done already show that such pre-programming is present. In fact that’s what Shapiro himself says.

So really the question is the origin of that pre-programming. I think it would be a mistake to impute higher consciousness to a bacterial cell. I think that would take us down the form of a kind of nature mysticism, and you don’t need that in order to do exciting scientific research.

We had a terrific scientific meeting the day after the Royal Society with all kinds of great research projects. Let me tell you about one that’s relevant to cancer research.

There’s a problem in evolutionary theory known as the Waiting Times Problem. That is, you can actually quantify the number of coordinated mutations that are necessary to build certain types of structures. You can also quantify how long we should have to expect for those coordinated mutations to take place.

Our ability to treat cancer actually exploits the cell’s evolvability limits. Unhealthy cells are often treated by a cocktail of drugs which exploit the fact that cells can only produce only certain coordinated mutations in a given amount of time.

So the kind of research we’re doing, actually quantifying those waiting times, could be very useful in cancer research. It’s actually predicated on an understanding that there are limits to what evolution mechanisms can produce.

I think when we examine not only Neo-Darwinism, but these Third Way mechanisms, we’re seeing clear evidence of limits as well as their capabilities.

So mapping where those boundary lines lie is a crucially important part of understanding what happened in the evolutionary past, but it’s also crucially important to addressing disease in the present, like cancer and antibiotic resistance. Both of which I think can be addressed by these drug cocktail approaches, which presupposed that there are limits to evolutionary change and what evolution mechanisms can produce.

I don’t think that this is a science-stopper, I think that’s a red herring. I think ID, if you look at systems as design there are lots of things to explore, including the functional logic and that has led to a lot of cool discoveries.

I’m on the same page with Perry on Neo-Darwinism, I think it’s dead. I’m on the same page with him with a lot of elegant new mechanisms and new processes that are being discovered, but I don’t think the mechanisms that are being proposed by the Third Way folks solve the problem of macro evolution, and I don’t think design is a science-stopper.

It’s not only a good explanation of the informational properties of life and the informational infusions which we see through the history of life, it also opens up a wide vista of new research projects, some of which we’re actually funding at the Discovery Institute.

JB: I was going to say, as much as you have obviously disagreed in certain respects with Perry you both share that same view that Neo-Darwinism is dead, and that scientism is also on the way out as well because of that.

Stephen Meyer: We share a lot including a common metaphysical perspective. I think a lot of what’s driving Perry is what he was talking about with “market share.” How do you position a more theistically-oriented way of looking at the natural world to get people who are atheist or agnostic to take you seriously?

I think at the end of the day you have to set those things aside and say what is nature telling us, and then develop an understanding of both the origin and development of life is consistent with the evidence.

JB: Perry, just finally, obviously you may want to pick this up, I’m sure you will, on your blog again, once this conversation airs. But how long do you think it’s going to actually take for the textbooks to catch up with where the actual science is? I mean, do we have to wait for the old guard to pass away and for these bright new folks like James Shapiro to be the ones writing these textbooks?

Perry Marshall: I’ve always loved the phrase “science advances one funeral at a time.” But I think this is going to happen a lot faster, because of the internet and the information age. I don’t think five years from now a textbook that’s still banging the Neo-Darwinian drum will pass muster.

This is like the Berlin wall. It is going to come down very fast. Those of you who remember when communism fell, it only took two or three years. This will be like the Berlin wall where once it went down, one communism started tumbling, I think we’re looking at 3-5 years before there’s a complete paradigm shift. Not only inside the sciences, but in the pop culture. This is going to be fast not slow.

JB: Thank you both Perry and Steve for joining me on the program today. As I say, do check out the Unbelievable page in order to find links to both of their websites, their books and the articles that have both come out with different responses from both camps to this very interesting Royal Society conference that took place at the end of last year. But for the moment, Perry and Steve, thanks for joining me on the program today.


Perry’s Comments on the Program

COMMENT #1: “The Cambrian explosion wasn’t caused by naturalistic evolution, it was caused by Intelligent Design” or “Origin of life was an act of Intelligent Design” are by definition God-of-Gaps arguments.

The Discovery Institute can claim it’s not a God argument, and instead say it’s an information and intelligence argument, but at the end of the day, if it’s not from the innate capacity of the cell or some process we can model, observe and describe, then it’s supernatural. Just because intelligence is “inference to the best explanation” doesn’t make it not a God-of-Gaps argument. It’s still God-of-Gaps.

Creationists and ID advocates have been telling me for years that there’s no evidence for macro-evolution; they believe God intervened and created new life forms. But I’ve been pointing out for years that macro-evolutionary events are plainly observable in real time. You can get a new species in years, months, sometimes even days.

I fully understand that how cells got to be so smart is a HUGE unanswered question. I agree that information always infers intelligent agents. And perhaps God is the answer. But my position is that living things are agents too and we can and should trace the progress from one evolutionary step to the next. I invite you to consider that the capacity cells have to evolve is a far more impressive miracle than, say, God beaming Zebras on to the savanna Star-Trek style where they suddenly appear eating grass.

If Bill Gates developed DOS in 1981 and then DOS evolved into the Windows 10 of today, with NO programmers from Redmond Washington – if DOS self-organized its own Windows desktop, internet connection, web browser, Word, Excel, anti-virus software etc., without any human engineers, how much more would you respect Bill Gates and his team?

At the risk of stating the obvious, no software I’ve ever heard of does this. But life does.

As a Christian I’m not opposed to miracles at all. I’ve been in the room twice when people who were deaf for 30+ years got their hearing back. But as an engineer I observe that living things do something every day that’s more “miraculous,” if I may use that term, than creatures magically appearing. They evolve. It’s just like if DOS evolved into Windows all by itself. Organisms evolve in real time.

It’s the biggest untold story in the history of science and the Neo-Darwinists have completely missed it. The creationists and the Discovery Institute have completely missed it as well. You would never know from reading a Richard Dawkins book or a Stephen Meyer book that you can get a completely new species in two years, and maybe even two days, from symbiogenesis or hybridization. Or that you can witness a radical innovation from a single cell in just 12 hours.

Neo-Darwinism is about miracles of randomness which can never be quantified or demonstrated. It’s the biggest mistake in the history of science. And despite Meyer’s insistence to the contrary, Intelligent Design is still God of the gaps. The two are symmetrical. Neither offers you a mechanism that qualifies as empirical science. Neither helps the scientist do his real job, which is to explain every evolutionary step in reproducible detail.

And neither is telling you the REAL story – that organisms possess tools of Natural Genetic Engineering and freedom to evolve on their own. It’s the purpose of my book Evolution 2.0 to tell that story.

COMMENT #2: We currently have no idea how to get from chemicals to code. Many people assume time and chance would eventually produce life, but there’s no hard evidence this is true. All we know for sure is that life comes from life. Yes, life and its ability to evolve is incredibly impressive.

But the immediate practical question is, what do cells know that we don’t?

I do not believe you can simply “pre-load” any algorithm into a cell that would know how to handle all the situations bacteria adapt to. Barbara McClintock’s 1984 Nobel Prize paper was precisely about how organisms respond to shocks for which they are not prepared (and could not possibly be prepared for, because that particular shock had probably never happened before in the history of life.)

Stephen Meyer’s interpretation of adaptation is that it’s algorithmic. That’s a very useful word; it’s far more accurate than “random mutation and natural selection.” But it’s also a limiting word. Cellular adaptation is more than that. Cells adapt in ways that seem to have the appearance of being self-aware. If you wish to call it an algorithm, you’ll need to think of it as a living algorithm. Something altogether superior to what computers do.

COMMENT #3: So far as we know, most information for a body plan is not contained in the genome, it is somehow transmitted from parent cell to daughter cell via cell membrane. The most interesting work I have seen on this subject is Stewart Pivar’s book On the Origin of Form where he shows how complex body plans can be derived through straightforward manipulation of simple geometrical shapes. Genes control the proportions of the body plan, but do not define the shape itself. His is a beautiful and elegant model.

We have very little knowledge of the evolution of body plans, but my money’s on locating beautiful, elegant, natural processes by which body plans can experience radical changes. We are quite confident for example that the step from invertebrates to vertebrates involved a genome duplication, and the step from vertebrates to jawed vertebrates involved a 2nd genome duplication. This is called Ohno’s 2R hypothesis.

COMMENT #4: I don’t think Eva Jablonka’s “it’s not God” is metaphysical panic. It is resisting the temptation to make Isaac Newton’s mistake, which was introduce God as an interfering agent instead of finding the flaw in his math. I’m a Christian and I’m not against God at all, but it doesn’t serve science to see life’s history as a series of divine singularity events nearly as well as it serves science to see life as the outworking of a process that’s baked in from the beginning.

When we read Psalm 139 where it says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” in the 21st century we do not read that and say, “God is actively attaching arms and legs to that baby in mama’s tummy.” We know there is a completely natural process by which that happens (an utterly AMAZING natural process, by the way). This does not take anything away from the wonder and joy of a newborn baby.

A few weeks ago at dinner, a renowned infertility doctor from New York City was expressing to me his utterly astonishment at the sophistication of first few minutes of embryo development in the womb. “We know nothing!” he exclaimed.

If we assumed fetal development was based on divine intervention, that would hinder the progress of medicine. Likewise, if we assumed it were just “random” that would also stop us from understanding it. So I see evolution as a macro-macro version of what is happening in the womb – an outworking of a process that is intrinsically self-directing and perhaps even self-aware.

The approach the Discovery Institute is taking – which says macro-evolution is impossible and requires divine intervention – would probably never produce a researcher like Lynn Margulis, whose magnificent detailed work showed that symbiotic evolutionary relationships are at work in every single level of life, at multiple layers.

Many ID people might still be skeptical that a blue-green alga could become a functioning chloroplast in a plant cell. And it is discoveries of this kind (remember that symbiotic mergers have been produced in real time) that the anti-common-descent position is most in danger of overlooking.

COMMENT #5 Barbara McClintock asked the question, “What does a cell know about itself?” and I believe that is one of the most important questions in all of science. The answer is, we don’t know. But if you read a book like “What a Plant Knows” by Daniel Chamovitz or “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wollebehn or “A Feeling for the Organism,” Evelyn Fox Keller’s biography of Barbara McClintock; or “Acquiring Genomes” by Lynn Margulis; or James Lovelock’s seminal book “Gaia,” you begin to realize the living world outside of humans is almost infinitely responsive, cooperative and self-directing.

COMMENT #6: Stephen Meyer says “I think most of us would agree that we’re smarter than bacteria” and yes, most of us blithely assume this is true.

I wish to challenge that assumption. A protozoan under stress can make 100,000 edits to its genome in 12 hours and re-structure its physiology, suddenly able to digest a nutrient that it couldn’t before.

Do you know any software dudes who can re-arrange 100,000 lines of code in 12 hours and not crash the program?

I invite the reader to consider that cells possess a savant-like genius, if you will, and that they are in some sense far smarter than we are. Look at a banana peel and consider how elegant of a packaging solution that is. It’s lightweight, it’s biodegradable, and it does its job quite well, thank you very much.

Then take a walk to the back of your house and look in the trash can at all the man-made packaging. Are you sure humans are really smarter than bananas? Depending on your perspective, the bananas may be smarter than us. Cells are better programmers than any human engineer.

COMMENT ON “OMNISCIENT”: I would never suggest that nature is omniscient. I am suggesting that nature is very much smarter than most of us assume it to be. As evidenced by the fact that a protozoan can do more programming in 12 hours than a team of Google engineers can do in 12 weeks.

Anyone who has done software programming knows that completely random mutations NEVER produce better programs. Not in the real world. And today we know that evolutionary mutations in biology are not random. They are highly organized and follow specific structures, as visionaries like Barbara McClintock and Lynn Margulis showed.

Organisms are making their best guesses as to what adaptation is going to work best. Most of the time they fail. Some of the time they succeed.

When I say “best guesses” that’s precisely what I mean. I have tremendous direct experience with natural selection, because I wrote the world’s best selling books on both Google advertising and Facebook advertising. Online ad platforms are highly Darwinian environments where 2% of the advertisers get 50% of the clicks.

Competition is brutal. Google and Facebook are giant natural selection machines. Millions of businesses succeed or fail based on their ability to get those clicks. Online advertising is a 24/7/365 evolutionary competition.

When you create ads, you never know in advance what is going to work best. You have to just put a lot of stuff out there and you A/B test it out. The marketplace (selection) is the final arbiter. When organisms are under stress they massively re-arrange their DNA and they are doing the exact same thing entrepreneurs do when they design new businesses and new products and put new ideas in the marketplace.

Keep in mind that business is just an extension of biology. Business is how all of us eat. Also notice that selection all by itself doesn’t create anything at all. The advertisers generate the new information, and the best way to create that information is to derive your ideas through feedback from the environment. This is exactly what cells do.

Nobody who succeeds in advertising or business succeeds because they’re omniscient. They succeed because they test a lot of stuff and because they have a protocol for testing a lot of different things. I observe in biology the exact same things I see in business. It’s worth noting that many of Darwin’s ideas about natural selection came from the Reverend Thomas Malthus, who developed his ideas by observing business and economics.

Which is to say evolution works the exact same way in all spheres, whether biology or marketing or economics or technology. Evolution is chaos resolved by intent.

COMMENT #7: Stephen, how do you know cells don’t do this by conscious awareness? What if they do? What if there are multiple kinds of consciousness? Consider our own human reflective self-awareness. What we are conscious of is always a tiny fraction of what is actually going on.

While you are eating a sandwich, your subconscious mind is processing massive amounts of other information. It controls your heart and breathing and your standing and walking or driving, without you having to pay any attention. Then if a truck suddenly careens around the corner and is about to run you over, your subconscious mind will immediately bring it to your attention so you can react.

But even that pales in comparison to what our bodies do. Every organ in your body organizes an almost incomprehensible information on the level of cellular intelligence. (Even if you’re in a coma!)

Your body does far more on its own than your brain does for your body. I am asking the reader to consider that the process of evolution is fueled by this form of intelligence. Most people have not even begun to consider the implications of this, but I’m merely observing what cells actually do in real experiments and in real life.

This is the thesis of Evolution 2.0: What do cells know that we don’t? If we find out, we stand to achieve staggering progress in health, medicine and technology. Every doctor needs to know. Every nutritionist needs to know. Every software programmer needs to know.

I don’t think we’ll ever stop finding new subatomic particles. Similarly, I do not think we will ever reach the bottom of the cell’s capabilities. I believe that within the vertical category of systems within systems in biology, it’s “turtles all the way down.” I suspect that cellular behavior goes all the way down to the quantum level.

There are more and more levels yet to be discovered. Only by embracing macro-evolution as a supremely ordered, goal-driven process will we find them.


You may also enjoy listening to Perry’s debate on Evolution 2.0 with atheist biologist PZ Myers on Unbelievable.

It’s the opposite side of the ID coin – instead of arguing for the power of God, PZ argues the Darwinian doctrine of randomness.


Download The First 3 Chapters of Evolution 2.0 For Free, Here –

Where Did Life And The Genetic Code Come From? Can The Answer Build Superior AI? The #1 Mystery In Science Now Has A $10 Million Prize. Learn More About It, Here –

85 Responses

  1. Additional resources & commentary on the Royal Society meeting:

    Official recordings:

    James MacAllister’s Environmental Evolution newsletter. Jim is Volunteer Archivist of the Lynn Margulis collection at UMass:

    Kalevi Kull from the University of Tartu in Estonia (he’s a biosemiotics specialist) published paper offering a point by point summary of the conference:

    Debate on Neo-Darwinism between Denis Noble and David Sloan Wilson:

    Suzan Mazur’s collection of interviews with Royal Society presenters:

  2. John Torday says:

    As far as I am concerned, the reason that ID and Darwinian evolution are debated at the same forums is that both are beliefs. On the one hand, we have those who believe that evolution is orchestrated by a prime mover. On the other hand, Darwinian evolution is based on Natural Selection. Both are untestabel, unrefutable forces, or metaphors. As long as biology remains descriptive it is analogous with alchemy and astrology. The underlying mechanisms of evolution are internal selection and epigenetic inheritance, which are absent from the evolution literature because they are based on cell biology, which is similarly absent from evolution literature. Stephen Meyer had mentioned during this debate that there was no organizing principle for evolution, inferring the hand of G_d. The organizing principle of evolution is the unicellular state, which adheres to the First Principles of Physiology (Torday and Rehan. Evolutionary Biology, Cell-Cell Communication and Complex Disease. Wiley, Hoboken, 2012).

  3. Stephen Meyer “We’re not arguing for God, we’re arguing for evidence of an intelligent agency or mind, based on our uniform and repeated experience, that it is to say, based on the same method of scientific reasoning that Darwin himself used in the Origin. Which is to look at our present knowledge of cause and effect and see what that tells us about what the most plausible explanation for the causes of events in the past might be.
    Our present knowledge of cause and effect confirms, whether it’s in computer simulations of these generation of information, or origin of life simulation, you need a mind to generate new information. So I think that’s not what we’re doing.”

    The neo-Darwinists (not to be confused with Darwin) used the same logic to name (without any understanding) the non-protein encoding parts of the genome, “junk DNA.”  This was enough for Richard Dawkins who, with no investigation, concluded that this was “fossil DNA” (Homage to Darwin debate, 2009). Lynn Margulis pointed out that this was the equivalent of saying, “God did it” because both substitute a name that sounds like understanding for actually investigation and finding out the natural answer.

    God, an Intelligent Designer, or a name given without understanding are equally good non-answers and dead ends. A dead end cannot be a scientific answer because science is based on the faith that the world is knowable through our senses—no dead ends, just more questions. 

    I would agree that nature reveals all manner of design and purpose (teleology), but it is a great leap from that evidence to the completely unsupported requirement for an Intelligent Designer. Purpose is an emergent property of the process of life. Life (cells) need to sense and couple with the environment to maintain metabolism (matter and energy flows). At higher levels of organization, you finally get to Shakespeare. Hurricanes and tornadoes are autonomously organized. In these natural systems, the move to order is spread over all the elements involved. These systems reduce energy gradients. Its thermodynamics with no need for an Intelligent Designer.

    I am a poor excuse for a Buddhist, but that part of me lives quite contentedly along side science. An understandable Universe is so much more wondrous than a “God of the gaps.” It is not scientific to give up your faith that the Universe is knowable or at least something that can be explored.  If there is a God (Intelligent Designer if you prefer a euphemism), I think he or she would not have such a needy Trumpian ego that we would be required to speak his or her name every time we encounter a mystery.  I think a Trumpian Intelligent Designer is a sad substitute for a God who would have better things to do than stump us.  An Intelligent Designer is the height of anthropocentricity and the Stephen Meyers examples demonstrate this.  Using ourselves and our creations as metrics for the Almighty is a pretty low bar.

    • James,

      I am broadly in agreement with your approach to evolution (as you know) but allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment and add some other comments.

      I too agree that purpose is an emergent property of the process of life, but nobody really understands what’s really going on at the core of life. Nobody truly understands what makes it purposive. Nobody has ever demonstrated that life is an emergent property of non-life, for example, and based on what we presently know, there is a nearly infinite chasm between life and non-life. On empirical grounds I have a hard time faulting ID people on their position on Origin of Life, for example. I am very much aware of self-organization of hurricanes for example, but I’ve never seen how self organization & energy gradients get you from non life to life.

      Nevertheless I still depart from the ID people as you see in this debate, because I have confidence that science will eventually solve these problems. Note that this is an article of faith not empiricism. You can make a case that empiricism supports their position. I believe that it will only be possible to solve such problems by taking a fundamentally teleological view of nature and rejecting reductionism and materialism.

      In my Evolution 2.0 book in describing ID, I say “ID asserts that the same principles of design employed in architecture, computer science, manufacturing, and music are valid and necessary in science and biology.”

      I think the integrationist perspective, third way and Systems Biology people similarly agree that the principles of design employed in architecture, computer science, manufacturing, and music are valid and necessary in science and biology. Like Denis Noble says, you have to acknowledge that the PURPOSE of a heart is to pump blood.

      Having originally come from the ID camp I can appreciate where Stephen’s is coming from. It took a few years for me to see the elegance of the Third Way approach. Because at face value, all the things we see in cells are much more like fantastically sophisticated machines (such as are man made) than hurricanes or sand dunes or snowflakes. So I don’t think it’s a mistake to infer design. What I do think is a mistake is to inject artificial limitations to the grandeur of what is really going on. I think the Third Way view is really much richer and it actually serves theology better as well.

      I don’t think Stephen is being honest with himself when he says that ID is not a God of Gaps argument. Of course it is a God of Gaps argument.

      Perhaps this analogy will illustrate my own view of the relationship between God and nature:

      Mandelbrot Set

      If I say to you, “Where does this pattern begin?” the answer is: There is no beginning point. The only answer is that you start *somewhere* literally anywhere, and start computing points, and eventually you get this entire image. You would only see it if you saw a computer when it was halfway done drawing a fractal pattern.

      There is no starting point. Neither is there an endpoint. Which I think is a very nice analogue to Denis Noble’s brilliant observation that there is no privileged level of causation in biology. It is all systems within systems within systems (which are fractal) and you just have to start somewhere.

      As to this specific fractal image, if you say “where does this image start” it’s sort of like the wrong question. The image is generated by a computer which was seeded by a simple equation with boundary conditions, and computer and equation were both put together by people who are very much greater than the fractal pattern itself.

      You will not find the equation within the fractal pattern at all, you have to guess or infer it somehow. You will not find the generating computer in the fractal pattern either, and you will not be able to say “Aha, look! Here is the person who made this thing” in the fractal pattern. All those things are outside the pattern itself and have to be inferred.

      It’s also wrong to suggest that it just magically popped into existence.

      So you will get a false dichotomy where people argue about the pattern generating itself vs. there being a designer of the pattern, and while the inference to a designer is correct, it’s easy to come to all kinds of premature conclusions. Actually both perspectives are somewhat true and somewhat false.

      Yet another wrong assumption might be that someone took a paint brush and just painted this shape on a canvas. But if you didn’t know about computers, computer screens, printers or fractals, that might be the only thing you could think of.

      Is God trying to stump us? I like Solomon’s proverb from 3000 years ago: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; it is the glory of kings to uncover it.”

  4. Perry,
    You say. “ID asserts that the same principles of design employed in architecture, computer science, manufacturing, and music are valid and necessary in science and biology.”

    I would say that has it the wrong way ’round: man has taken design from the natural world. This is the only possible answer because we are such johnny-come-latelies to evolution.

    This is another example of creeping anthropocentrism–using man as the metric for nature. In spite of the Copernican revolution in science, we still place ourselves and our gods at the center of the Universe. When there is no center.

    I would also argue that we in fact do have some clues about the origin of life . Due to perhaps 4000 million years of distance from it, we may never know the precise and accurate story, but science may get to a very close approximation. Small replicons (e.g., viruses, phages) do give us examples of near-life. Things capable of evolving and reproducing, but without metabolism. The matter organized by life is the most common of stardust. Organic compounds are scattered throughout space. Cell-like structures form naturally. Hydrogen sulfide driven ecosystems near deep sea hydrothermal vents provide a likely environment for the catalyzing of complex molecules protected from ultraviolet radiation. We must remember that matter is not alive. Life is a higher order of organization and flow than what molecules can do. This is why DNA cannot be an active cause. Systems have no privileged parts.

    Lastly, ideas and discoveries in science are seldom, if ever, the product of one person. Sometimes they are the result of a new technology and the first person to use that technology. But the stories about science, as Bruno Latour has pointed out, are largely myths that have taken out all the wrong turns, painstaking work, lucky accidents, collaboration, intellectual theft, serendipity, politics, funding, “standing on the shoulders of giants”, etc. and replaced it with a story of a mighty challenge and the hero who answers the call. We’re humans and we like a good story. This probably explains the lasting popularity of the Bible, which is a compilation of great stories that like ideas and discoveries have much longer histories than is often appreciated.

    In a 4,000,000,000 year history of life, we have been doing empirical science for perhaps a little over 500 years. I think it is unreasonable to conclude that because we haven’t fathomed a mystery that long ago, we must conclude that an Intelligent Mind created life. I think that the Constructal Law in physics is a very good starting point for how design (patterns) in nature (both living and material) self-organize. It also explains why fractal math is so useful in modeling nature. This is not an argument that the Intelligent Designer used fractal math, but a recognition that fractal math (interdimensional between 2D and 3D) is a closer approximation of the formulas derived from nature than other mathematics. My guess is that is so because the Universe is reinterative.

    Or if we want to accept that, as scientists we must ask, “What was the origin of this Intelligent Mind and where is the empirical evidence for its origin?”

    • I don’t really think we’re equipped to answer the question one way or the other until we figure out what consciousness is. As I said in the debate, I think the universe is consciousness first, matter second, per Robert Lanza’s book Biocentrism. Not the other way around. I personally embrace this view because of my expertise and experience in information theory, signal processing and engineering. Information (formally understood according to Shannon’s encoder – message – decoder model) always starts with conscious intent, and to date there are no known exceptions. I think the mystery of consciousness is bound up in this question and actually 1) origin of life, 2) evolution and 3) human self-reflective consciousness all unify into a single question here, which is the consciousness question.

      • John Torday says:

        Perry, consciousness was the consequence of the partitioning of the internal milieu (C Bernard) from the external environment, which was probably accomplished by the formation of micelles by lipids. Lipids naturally have ‘memory’ due to their hysteresis…..that’s the basis for the consciousness that has fostered biologic traits via evolution (homeostatically) because it is the self-referential, self-organizational properties of biology that confer consciousness.

  5. What is the most basic form of knowledge? I think Maturana and Varela may be correct that it is a cell sensing and reacting to its environment to remain coupled to the environment to maintain metabolism. All cells sense and react. All cells have the purpose of maintaining autopoesis.

    Colonies of cells add a new level of organization/complexity and multi-cellularity (present in all Kingdoms and Domains) adds more levels. Is human consciousness so very different from other primates, other mammals, birds? Different yes, very different probably not. We are perhaps the most versatile niche makers, but its all relative. I doubt that a human could build some of the beaver dams I have seen (without tools and using the same materials). We are not important to Gaia (the open Earth system) or the biosphere. Relative to the biosphere all primary producers, but especially cyanobacteria are far more important. And let’s not forget that we humans are not individuals in any scientific sense (see Scott Gilbert’s lecture on “Expanding Lynn’s View: A new symbiotic biology” on YouTube). We are communities or niches built by bacteria.

    Lynn Margulis had a lot to say about our “species specific arrogance,” a basic and unquestioned assumption made by the majority of humans, including scientists. We have Shakespeare, but only we read him–biological relativity. Denis Noble has helped immensely–not by originating this idea, but by giving this idea its proper name and framework.

    Out of the 500 or so years of modern science, biology has had the misfortune to be the last of the sciences to embrace relativity. It embraced a reductio ad absurdum idea that largely embraced a molecular certainty and ignored the fact that life happens above molecules at the level of cells for 70 years. Tackling the origin of life or the question of what is consciousness are deep mysteries. Let’s cut ourselves some slack if we haven’t figured these things out yet. But let’s investigate rather immediately deciding these things are unknowable.

    Having said all that, I tend to think we probably won’t have enough time as a species to plumb these mysteries and even if we aren’t facing extinction within a few centuries, I would second J.B.S. Haldane who said the “the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” I think that is the level of humility we should embrace. Or as Lily Tomlin put it, “We’re just specks.”

  6. Stephen Meyer is mistaken when he says, “I’ll again repeat the point that you can’t get higher-level body plan structure out of genetic information alone.”

    We don’t. There is also the cytoplasmic and membrane inheritance, the innate plasticity of organisms, natural genetic engineering, symbiosis, physics and chemistry. Organisms do not rely on genetic information alone. Life happens at the level of the cell/organism not at the level of matter.

  7. Henning Heinemann says:

    What we are evolving into is quantum self awareness, into our Superego selves. However this is an evolutionary change of choice; of he we apply our free will. We must choose to evolve, and for that we must understand what it is we are evolving into.

    “Children of God” is more literal than we imagine.!AoXPlyjz_r8dgU9CxzWNXywKYZjC

  8. Perry,
    No, I am not familiar with Stuart Pivar’s “On the Origin of Form: Evolution by Self-Organization.” I just looked up the description. I have seen a number of ideas about how form happens in nature, but
    I must confess ignorance in this particular area.

    • Jim,

      Take a look at this paper, it’s well worth the read. Start with the illustrations:

      • Perry,
        Yes this is the paper that Denis Noble uses as an illustration that physics also contributes to growth and development–it isn’t all in some “program”. I missed that Pivar was one of the authors. Mark McMenamin is someone I know, a close colleague of Lynn Margulis. Mark and his wife (who is a NASA researcher) have written a book called, “Hypersea” that is a real eye-opener about environmental evolution or the effect of the origin and evolution of life is intimately coupled to the environment and vice versa. This is one of my main interests as an evolution geographer. As Vladimir Vernadsky, author of “The Biosphere” (circa 19240, observed “life is the geological force”. He also said “life penetrates life”. McMenamin was involved in the English translation of “The Biosphere” – in the 1990s, I think. Vernadsky, the father of biogeochemistry, and a minerologist, came to a very Gaia-like understanding of the Earth system, which James Lovelock came to independently years later from the perspective of an atmospheric chemist with biological/microbial underpinnings supplied by Lynn Margulis. I visited one of Lynn’s favorite graduate students in Colorado this past spring and as we were hiking in the Great Sand Dunes, she asked me if I had ever thought about bacteria as God. Certainly, microbes, before they could be seen, were characterized as evil spirits. When they could be seen, we mischaracterized them all as “germs”. Seeing them as God is not far-fetched. They literally make our lives possible and as I said above, we are the niches, they have evolved into.

  9. John Torday says:

    Perry and James, Pivar’s paper describes embryologic patterns, but fails to either acknowledge or integrate the ligand-receptor growth factor signaling that we know underlies those pattern i.e. how specific growth factors and their signaling receptors determine morphogenesis. The mechanistic underpinnings of development and phylogeny are the ways in which to literally ‘connect the dots’ for an understanding the history of the organism. I have used that approach to deconvolute the evolution of the skeleton, lung, kidney, skin, eye and brain. The causal relationships are revealed by both gene deletion experiments and by pathophysiologic processes consistent with ‘reverse evolution’. It is only in this way that evolution as a process can be traced back to the unicellular state, and then forward again with the geochemistry as the back story. As for geological events, I have linked the water-land transition gene duplications to the evolution of those traits necessary for adaption for terrestrial life- lung, kidney, skin, bone, brain (Torday JS, Rehan VK. A cell-molecular approach predicts vertebrate evolution. Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Nov;28(11):2973-81).

    • John,

      This is fascinating and I think a bunch of people have various puzzle pieces. I’m hoping that there’s a lot more conferences and interactions that will attempt to unifying all these individual fascinating developments.

  10. Trevor Martin says:

    I think you did an excellent job and that anyone scientifically informed who’s listening from an unbiased perspective would see you as the clear victor. Mayer really seems to have wanted a God-of-the-Gaps thesis, but failed to recognize that this sorta thing sets itself up for failure since new mechanisms and methodology can always come and close the gaps, while you noted how just rethinking the scientific paradigm of reductionism (which ironically, Mayer seems to hold strongly to in relation to cells) can the possibility of closing the gaps. I heard you mention biocentrism. Out of curiosity, are you familiar with the evolutionary panpsychism of Whitehead and Henri Bergson or the experience-only neutral monism of William James? I think these thinkers shed strong light on the hard problem of consciousness and what that means for the behavior of the physical world.

    For instance, Whitehead views the world as being composed of experience, such that matter is just the abstraction used to predict successive experiences. On such a view, what is beneath matter- what we are seeing the reflection of whenever we see physical objects- is simply the same sort of thing as the experiencers we are. On such a view, all action is in a sense conscious action- though usually not the result of human consciousness- and things like intellect exist in lower degree, but can be grown through rearranging systems. In his system, the fundamental reality is creativity, since existence is the same as possibility of generating differences, and because of this, the behavior of systems tunes itself to generate more of such. When we abstract the behaviors we see, that’s where the laws of physics come from- but they are not preset things that are somehow dictated on nature, but instead just descriptions of how we characterize nature’s behavior.

    Bergson holds a similar view whereby all organisms are sentient and contain systems which focus and organize their sentience (which they receive from the environment) so as to make it useful (this is the purpose of our brains on his view). The sentience itself is understood to be the experience which is roughly the “being there” of a given object- that it is embedded in a reality *is* the fundamental fact that defines a given consciousness (hence his panpsychism).

    Finally, William James’ philosophy makes the radical claim that the difference between subjective and objective is epistemic rather than ontological. That is to say, “subject” and “object” refer not to real things, but to roles reality- which we have until now called “experience”- play. The very same thing is at once the world you experience, yourself, and the experience itself, and recontextualized for others, can be also your body and/or brain, a physical object in the world interacting with others. On such a view, there is no hard problem of consciousness, because there is no ontological difference between the existence of some object and some consciousness of or pertaining to said object- said object is in itself an experience that upon interacting with you appears differently from it in itself.

    On the above views, the Hard Problem of Consciousness is dissolved, and with it things like dualism and materialism, and distinctions like appearance vs reality. The above views also furnish insight into how things behave and why physical objects move as opposed to remaining stationary- that is, they don’t simply characterize said motion as the result of “energy” or “force” and leave the explanation for how structures change as a mystery, but offer a detailed explanation of why things must change and in what way they do. They also give insights that may be used further to come up with mathematical frameworks for understanding the role of sentience in predicting the behavior of the world. For example, if Bergson is correct, then the more a system integrates information from a variety of sources, the more conscious and adaptive it is. This would mean that in effect, we can break up a system’s potential states and consider how each input affects its behavior, and create a metric based on these that would predict its responsiveness and adaptivity. Giulo Tononi and Christoph Koch’s Integrated Information Theory of consciousness, though still in its infancy, does this to an extent- and may have implications for biology. Likewise, Whitehead’s view that everything is actually experience implies that behavior of systems can be characterized in terms of game theoretic developments of conscious agents – what cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman is developing through his theory which has thus far retrodicted much of quantum field theory from first principles alone, and may predict the existence of currently unknown particles and has potential to show which version of string theory is correct. These views have wide-spanning implications for science, and we’ve likely just scratched the surface, but we need to move past the assumptions of brute fact filled physicalism and intelligent design that artificially strip the world of any purposive behavior to accomplish that.

    • Trevor,

      Not familiar with Whitehead or Bergson, though I’ve heard their names numerous times. This has come up quite a bit with me mentioning Biocentrism.

      I pursued BenBella books to publish Evolution 2.0 because they published Biocentrism. There aren’t many publishers willing to stick their neck out and do stuff that’s edgy. Most want predictable. I doubt that my religious views overlap that much with Lanza but I don’t see that as particularly relevant. The relevant portion is that he uses simple straightforward scientific observation to show that life and even the universe don’t conform to reductionist assumptions.

      What you describe sounds very interesting and I get the idea that some of these ideas are pretty old. Which is a good sign. Most people don’t know that symbiogenesis theory is well over 100 years old and in fact was very well developed by 1924 when Kozo-Polyanski wrote his book in Russian, which was translated by Victor Fet and Lynn Margulis and released in 2012. Barbara McClintock’s ideas are now 70+ years old as well. Lamarck’s ideas are 200 years old.

      Hopefully I’ll get the time to explore some of this stuff in greater detail. Thanks for the comment today.

    • John Torday says:

      As a working scientist I find the subject of consciousness of interest as a specific biologic trait that has evolved like all our other physiologic attributes. As such it should, in my opinion, be looked at from its developmental and phylogenetic origins at the cellular level. We have successfully used this approach to deconvolute the evolution of the lung, kidney, skin, bone and brain (Torday and Rehan. Evolutionary Biology, Cell-Cell Communication and Complex Disease. Wiley, 2012; Evolution, the Logic of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). Consciousness must have material origins, and as such should be soluble. I have suggested that its origin was in the lipids that formed the first protocell. Lipids spontaneously form what are called micelles when suspended in water, and in the primordium they would have been heated by the Sun, and cooled at night. Lipids ‘remember’ their conformation when deformed due to hysteresis. This may have been the origin of consciousness, particularly given the fundamental role of lipids in vertebrate evolution and their roles in the evolution of the brain (Torday JS, Miller WB Jr. On the Evolution of the Mammalian Brain. Front Syst Neurosci. 2016 Apr 19;10:31). Hope this is helpful.

  11. There is a Third Way that has been identified through the work of John Torday and my own, which I address in my article, ‘Cognition, information fields and hologenomic entanglement.’

    Within this framework, evolution begins from a new place compared to Neodarwinism. Life requires cognition at all scopes and scales. The critical factor in evolution was the moment of instantiation of the self-referential cell. How that occurred is unknown, but the fact that cells are self-aware problem-solving agencies cannot be reasonably disputed. I offer that it is best to consider it as a phase shift derivative of the thermodynamic scale as a state function. As a result, the cell acquires critical participant/observer status, by which physical data becomes information that can be used to solve problems through the attachment to the larger information space.

    It proceeds then by differing means. This is best understood as engineering in the sense that Shapiro indicates with his concepts of natural genetic engineering. However, in this circumstance, it is natural cellular engineering (acknowledging the vital importance of all aspects of the crowded, active cellular environment including the cell membrane). It is clear then, that genes are tools and not a dominating agency. This process of cellular engineering is conceptually just like humans making a city though competition and collaboration wherein every individual (cell) is serving its own interests which are then reciprocally linked to all other participants. This is evolution as successive rounds of niche construction, emanating from the cell as the first niche construction, as John Torday has correctly identified. When we, as humans build we use the tools we have according to our abilities. Cells do the same, and their substrate are bioactive materials.

    It arrives at a different endpoint. All multicellular eukarytoic organisms are collaborative holobionts, which are continuously in process elaborations of cellular engineering. Our subjective assessment of ourselves as a singularity is an illusion. Our essential selves are co-linked cellular-microbial ecologies. Our obligatory recapitulation through the unicellular zygote reflects our permanent roots to the perpetual eukaryotic unicellular form.
    Our appraisal of phenotype has been misplaced. Phenotype is the agency by which the unicellular recapitulating form continuously assesses the outward environment by experiencing epigenetic impacts which are they continuously adjudicated through the central unicellular state.

    In sum, the Third Way exists. It requires several adjustments in our thinking about evolution and ourselves beginning with the cell as a cognitive, problem-solving agency. When that is accepted, evolution reduces. At every scope and scale, it is the reiterative entangled property of living entities to use information to resolve environmental ambiguities into self-referential biological solutions.

    • William,

      This is very reminiscent of the conversations I’ve had with John Torday. Thank you for doing this work. Proclaim it boldly.

      • Perry,
        Thank you for your comment. I will offer that there will be no solution of the continuing conundrum of our place on the planet until the centrality of cognition at all scopes and scales is recognized. In all candor, this is not disputable. The implication then is direct. Multicellular eukaryotic development is its product, including phenotype ( despite the strangeness of the thought). The proved endpoint is then justified. All multicellular eukaryotic organisms are hologenomic entities since we have never relinquished our essential cellular selves. John and I aver that all of evolutionary development can be understood within the framework of the essential cellular form confronting a stream of environmental problems under circumstances in which the information that they will use for that solution set is ambiguous by its very nature. In such circumstances, no coder is required. Code, at least its genetic aspects as one instance, emerges as a product of individual and collective solution-seeking to cellular problems, by both stochastic and non-stochastic means. All aspects of the cell, as the base organism, are tools from which elaborations naturally emanate. We, as humans, exhibit all of these capacities, and manifest it in our human form, ….. as we must, …. since we are products of that singular biological narrative.
        Perry, I admire your work and hope that we have a chance to chat some day.

  12. Paul D. Brown says:

    Hi Perry,
    FYI I am an ID guy. I don’t necessarily expect you to change your mind regarding Evo 2.0, but I do think you are mistaken on several points of assessment in the debate. It is too bad in terms of certain discussion points, but I do appreciate the common ground we share and I do not object to you pursuing your hypothesis of the third way. Like other ID folks, we will continue pursuing ours as well – makes more sense to us.
    But I will attempt one clarification or correction, depending on how you may look at it – the old God-of-the-Gaps (GoG) idea. Yes, ID could be considered GoG, but leaving aside the first G for the moment, only if you define what you mean by gaps. Gaps in what? In my experience, the objection only works if one has already assumed that natural explanations are sufficient for all explanatory purposes for origins in the physical world. In other words, gaps in “natural” explanations. In other words, gaps in physical-causal explanations, explanations using physical-causal mechanisms that are pre-supposed to be causally sufficient to explain creation. You assume that an inability to explain is simply a “gap” in understanding natural processes. This is a metaphysical, philosophical commitment, not one necessitated by science. An inability to explain could mean that things simply do not work the way assumed.
    If one does not assume only natural (physical-causal) explanations are allowable, then the objection does not work. Say, for example, one thinks that physical-causal explanations are legitimate and intelligent agency explanations also are legitimate. The latter is, of course, true. If we as humans qualify as intelligent agents, for example, it is true that we cause outcomes in the physical world that natural physical-causal mechanisms do not. If I were to simply appeal to physical-causal (natural) explanations for the existence of the computer I am typing this message on, but left out the agents involved, my explanation would be wrong. There is no “violation” of physical-causal mechanisms that occurs in order to explain the origin of the computer. Natural causes are necessary, just insufficient as an explanation. The real explanation for the existence of computers requires inclusion of intelligent agents. It is not a “gap” to say this. It is the way things are.
    This is what ID does. It acknowledges more than one possible causal plane of explanation (such as above). Then it looks to see which seems the more plausible or important given data we are confronted with. This is not GoG in the way you claim.
    We all have predictions and I think we are all in for various surprises along the way. This is why we can agree on many points, and disagree too. We in the ID community are just as excited about science as you. Just have a few different takes.
    Paul D. Brown

    • Paul,

      I fully understand your rationale and theologically I can probably agree with you.

      However if a third way person says “hybridizations + symbiotic mergers + natural genetic engineering can explain the progression from invertebrates to vertebrates or prokaryotes to eukaryotes” and an ID person says they can’t, then one side is right and one side is wrong. If there is an evolutionary pathway then it is a naturalistic one.

      If the ID person says there is no possible naturalistic path from prokaryotes to eukaryotes, then that is a good old fashioned classical gap. It’s a GoG argument plain and simple. This is what Stephen Meyer has said so it’s a GoG argument despite his claims to the contrary.

      I feel like most of the time when this comes up, the ID person confuses the philosophical framework of ID with an actual physical explanation. I understand that you do not expect there is going to be a physical explanation. But all it took was for me to learn that a protozoan can edit 100,000 pieces of its own DNA in only 12 hours, and I was firmly convinced that there was probably a LOT more engine behind evolution than anybody had ever bothered to tell me.

      I completely agree with an ID person when he says “ID says the same principles of architecture, music, software engineering, language etc apply to biology.” But when an ID person is also saying “There is no way to get from species A to species B without a divine hand” they’re forgetting the possibility that life is either programmed to evolve or better yet has the innate intrinsic capacity to evolve on its own.

      To me that’s an even higher and deeper form of ID. Nobody knows how to write software that re-writes itself, but this is exactly what those protozoans are doing.

    • Richard C. says:

      Well stated, Mr. Brown. Thank you for so clearly demolishing the GoG sound bite that anti-ID folks love to repeat. For anyone in this discussion seriously, to call ID “creationism” or GoG is to intentionally lie. Address the arguments, people, don’t just lie.

  13. John Torday says:

    Seems to me that the fundamental difference between the GoG and scientific approaches to the question of evolution is filling the gap with a metaphor vs a hypothesis. The former is an ‘end to a means’, whereas the latter is a ‘means to an end’. Frankly, I find the scientific pursuit of ‘truth’ to be much more satisfying because it fuels thought and testing of ideas whereas the metaphoric fosters vacuums.

  14. John,
    I agree with you about an Intelligent Designer being a dead end and therefore not a scientific answer. I think the scientific question would be: What is the evidence for the existence of this Designer? Pointing out design and patterns in nature can be explained without the need for a Designer. Beavers design dams and ponds. Termites design their mounds. Why not use them as the model for the Designer? The next scientific question would be: Where/How did the Designer originate? The answer that the Designer simply IS fails because that is no different than saying nature simply IS or the Universe simply IS. I think those statements are better because, unlike a Designer, they are obviously true.

    • Richard C. says:

      James wrote: “I think the scientific question would be: What is the evidence for the existence of this Designer? Pointing out design and patterns in nature can be explained without the need for a Designer. Beavers design dams and ponds. Termites design their mounds. Why not use them as the model for the Designer?”

      Focusing on just one aspect here – this quoted segment ends with a question. A question is not an answer. Here the question is offered as a rhetorical device, but it does not advance any argument. Perhaps James can answer that question.

  15. John Torday says:

    James, so where do you think the ‘design’ came from? I’ve published a couple of papers stipulating that the unicell was the source and primary level of selection, acting like a fractal. jst

  16. John, as you know there are many designs and patterns that come about by abiotic processes. On the very early Earth (an open thermodynamic system), these processes would have shaped the Earth and its surface. But your question is about design in the living process on Earth. Origin of life studies have provided some answers. Now, ancient hydrothermal vent formations in Greenland now exposed due to the loss of ice, have revealed tentative stromatolites and fossils that date to 3770 million years or possibly older. Evolution of the life process is likely to have begun using substrates in protected pockets where lipid and molecular evolution could occur in a controlled environment. Most of this designing was due to physical and chemical processes, kinetic and chemical energy and probably serendipity—a Goldilocks set of circumstances. We have today near-life small replicons that use the replication processes of cells to reproduce, but they do not metabolize. They seem more passive, like land mines, that have triggers but require someone to step on them to be activated. How and when these originated is a mystery. Did they proceed cells, evolve with cells, or follow cells? I am an evolution geographer, not a virologist. But they do seem to represent entities that are somewhere between matter and living matter (to use Vernadsky’s term). My mentor, Lynn Margulis, used to say that life evolved by bringing the outside inside. From protected pockets in hydrothermal vents with abundant chemical energy in the form of hydrogen sulfide and matter as ions in solution, molecular evolution would occur and complexity. Proteinoids or lipid bilayered spheres would provide protected environments for molecular evolution with proteins providing controlled permeability to keep the system open. I am not an origin of life expert, but it seems reasonable to think that all of this is physics and chemistry. To keep the system running requires remaining coupled to the environment and equilibration to control the outside that is now inside a cell. At that point in the process you have some form of cybernetic control. Maturana and Verela have presented a scenario from the vantage point within the cell for this step into what they term autopoesis. This step is the birth of sensing and reaction (knowledge and decision making). This is a higher level of organization that we recognize as life. All cells sense and react to remain coupled to their environments to maintain matter and energy flow. So at this point you have organization that has purpose and knowledge—intelligence. The Modern Synthetic or neo-Darwinist view is based on blind chance being naturally selected to explain evolution. This precludes the self-organization that characterizes open thermodynamic systems. Consequently, physics was only partially adopted in the neo-Dawinist scheme. As Denis Noble points out, they left out relativity or what Lynn Margulis referred to as context. The new paradigm taking shape in the life sciences finally brings relativity to biology. I think form follows function if it fact the two are separate and not simultaneous. The Constructal Law in physics offers an explanation for much of design being based on efficient flow. This accounts for design. Dennis Noble has coined the idea of harnessing stochasticiy by the cell to run its own “Monte Carlo” modeling to find solutions (designs) to circumstances that would decouple it from its environment. So I would say that the cell itself is the ‘designer.’ All of this occurs at a variety of scales and levels of organization. What we call consciousness is likely a higher order or organization built upon cellular coupling to the environment.
    I think that biology is just beginning to make sense so if much of this is still mysterious, I would say that we might want to exercise some patience. 4600 million years of evolution in unlikely to be quickly understood.

  17. Neal Kendall says:

    I see Intelligent Design and Neo-Darwinian evolution as a binary proposition. Either life and its spectacular evolution is the result of purely mindless natural causes or it is not. There is no Third Way really. Either natural processes are necessary and sufficient to account for it or they are not. Stated from the other perspective, either intelligent infusion of information is necessary for the origin and evolution of life or it is not. There is no middle ground; there is no excluded middle in that equation. What Shapiro and Nobel seem to be trying to do—to their credit—is simply telling people what the evidence is showing, i.e. telling people the truth about what the research indicates. That is very refreshing. But since they are scientists they are trying very hard to keep this science of evolution in the naturalistic/physical domain. They claim that all these extraordinarily complex mechanisms that produce non-random and systematic change—this Swiss army knife as you call it—account for the evolution of life. I am sure they are right about that. But that simply begs the question. There are two fundamental problems with that if you are trying to carve out some space between Intelligent Design and naturalist neo-Darwinsim: 1) They need to identify how all those complex mechanisms got there in the first place without relying on either: a) neo-Darwinian processes or b) Intelligent infusion from without. 2) They need to say how on earth it is possible that intelligence—not rooted in outside infusion of information—could be built into the early cells and that would just happen to have the foreknowledge to produce all these splendid living functions. Good luck with that.

  18. Jared Jammer says:


    You seem to be advocating for front-loaded evolution. If this is the case, then at what point do you believe the front loading took place? The origin of life? The origin of the universe? Some other point?

    If it’s at some point other than the origin of life, do you now believe that natural forces can create codes?


    • Life is either a) a divine intervention or b) the result of emergent properties of matter and the universe that we currently have little comprehension of. I’m happy with either path.

      • Nathan Tumey says:

        Perry, if you are happy to accept a divine intervention in the origins of life, then why not in the development of life? Your entire argument seems to ride on methodological naturalism (ie, let’s never assume that “God” did it). I buy that. I’m a chemist. But if philosophical naturalism is false (and I believe that it is), then at SOME POINT, methodological naturalism MUST break down. There’s not point in positing a “god” who never intervenes in his creation. So in my mind, there really is no fundamental difference in your view vrs. and I.D. view. You are allowing a possible supernatural explanation at the origin of life. I’m allowing a possible supernatural explanation at any point along the way. I’m happy if there are viable mechanisms for the cambrian explosion, etc. But based on the evidence I see, I just can’t buy into the existing explanations. So, I posit that God perhaps intervened. My faith isn’t wrapped up in the idea that he HAD to intervene. Rather, I think that the best explanation (based on current evidence) is that he DID intervene. My opinion might change as more data roles in. I certainly don’t think that most I.D. folks (including Stephen) would suggest saying “God did it, case closed” and just give up on finding naturalistic explanations. That a caricature of an I.D. position – not what most of us actually think.

        • Nathan,

          If it is possible for an invertebrate to evolve into a vertebrate, then me speaking as an engineer, that means the original design of the invertebrate is exponentially more impressive than if the designer has to come along and develop another model, and another.

          If a single cell can evolve into everything on earth then that is even more impressive.

          IF the universe can somehow (and I don’t know how) give birth to the first cell by some process we don’t yet understand, then that’s even more impressive.

          My faith isn’t wrapped up in the fact that God had to intervene either.

          But the point is, if you understand that evolution NEVER happens by accident, that Neo-Darwinism is well on its way to the slag heap, then an evolutionary biology that is compatible with methodological naturalism speaks to an even more powerful God, than a God who has to keep showing up and creating new things. Which is a much higher view of God than most IDers or creationists have ever stopped to consider.

          And if you take this view, you end this war with empirical science, which continues to show more and more pathways by which evolutionary steps actually empirically demonstrably do happen.

          There is a huge untold story here and if you only read ID literature you really do miss the biggest untold story in 500 years of science.

          I don’t have any doubt that you understand the basic problems and parameters of this question. But I really would invite you to look at this whole question through a new set of lenses. I am deadly serious when I say “Darwinists underestimate nature, creationists underestimate God.”

          • John Duval says:


            Intervention is reactive. Contrasting, God is proactive. For it is written: “Before they call I will answer”.

            Your idea of intervention views things necessarily from the bottom up, rather than top down. God created things to speak to His spiritual properties: He didn’t create things merely for the sake of creating. So all things at the microbial and quantum level are what they are in order to serve the level where sentient beings can see the glory of God in them.

            That is, He created the universe for man, not man for the universe. And He created the universe for man because He created man in His image. And He created man in His image because He wished to glorify Himself through the submission of Christ to the Father at Calvary.

            It is all about Christ and His Cross, and nothing about anything else.

            So the information at the cellular level, is simply a diminutive of the glory of God at the macro level that is humanity. It is not the other way around.

            That is, man it not some ‘inevitable’ incidental, but the natural pinnacle of the whole creation. Commensurately, man contains a spirit which is by definition supernatural. That is, if man were simply the result of a progression ‘forced’ by an (innate) intelligence in life itself to evolve, then there were no point at which he might become a spiritual being.

            But rather, God created man fully formed, but nevertheless not alive until He breathed life into him. He didn’t do this with the animals: He made them alive from the outset. But man was formed dead, not alive, and only made to be alive once God put a spirit in him.

            • I believe the spirit (of Adam) entered flesh that was already there, much as the spirit overshadowed Mary to conceive the Messiah. Adam wasn’t the first human, Adam was the first prophet. More here

              • John Duval says:

                Adam was indeed the first human, for his wife was “the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20).

                • The text says “And God breathed the breath of life into the man and he became a living being.”

                  The word being is “nephesh” which means….

                  soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion

                  that which breathes, the breathing substance or being, soul, the inner being of man

                  living being

                  living being (with life in the blood)

                  the man himself, self, person or individual

                  seat of the appetites

                  seat of emotions and passions

                  activity of mind

                  activity of the will

                  activity of the character

                  The word for life is “chay” and it’s the same word used for “living” when Eve is the mother of all living.

                  So based on that, is the breath being referred to oxygen? Is it simply biology?

                  Is Eve the mother of all biology?

                  Or is she mother of all who have received the nephesh soul / will / emotions and passions from God?

                  • John Duval says:

                    When your theology requires you to strain at a gnat and bend and flex every possible rendition of a word and its nuances, your theology is mere eisegesis: you are writing the story.

                    The meaning is clear: Eve was the mother of all living, which included all righteous people and all wicked people, including Judas who betrayed Christ.

                    Commensurately, Galatians declares that the reason Christ was under the law from birth is that he was made of woman, which alludes to the fact that Eve was under the law, being along with Adam under the commandment which told her to not eat of the wrong tree. That is, the first woman was under the law and thus Christ was under the law. There is no room for another line of woman, for Paul here implies that the original woman was under the law. Therefore the original woman was Eve.

                    The problem with your theology is that you are trying to blend the world’s ideas with the Lord’s, and as a result, “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”.

                    • John,

                      The irony is, I agree with nearly everything you have said here. Because the law came to this man and this woman. The revelation of God to them is what made her “the mother of all living.”

                      I fully agree that she was mother of all righteous people and all wicked people, including Judas who betrayed Christ.

                      Indeed for she is the mother of Cain. Her motherhood above all is a motherhood of moral choices.

                      Genesis is not offering us any details about *how* “God formed the man from the dust of the ground.” When it says Eve was made from the rib of the man, the text does not tell us that it was a “rib”. That is something introduced by later translators. It is a term that is unclear that means “side” or “chamber.” It is not even certain that it is referring to something physical.

                      The statements in Genesis are not statements of biology. These are statements of law and divine unction.

  19. John, I just took a read through your abstract on “A central theory of biology”–I will read and learn. If my last comment sounded condescending, I apologize. It was me answering your question to myself and excuse the typos.

    • John Torday says:

      James, I took no offense at your last reply (too late in the game for that; it’s more important to get on with the business at hand). BTW, I was a student of Lynn Margulis at Boston University. As a faculty member at the other Boston school I used to attend a seminar with her at BU. I was in touch with her close to the end, and she seemed very distraught. For me one of my epiphanies was a ‘back of the napkin’ regression of the molecular changes in the lung over the arc of geophysics ( pointing back to the source of the biological imperative. If you don’t have access to the paper I can email it to you ([email protected]). Best, John

    • John Torday says:

      James, William B. Miller (The Microcosm Within) and I have been asked to Edit an issue of Biology(Basel). We thought your comment on the NET ” I want to bring a biospheric (bacterial/microbial) viewpoint to Big History to replace its anthropocentric bias.” would be a good fit with the theme of the Journal issue. Please let me know if you would be interested in authoring a paper. John

    • John Torday says:

      James, I fully agree with the precept that the cell internalizes its environment……selectively, such that our physiology is the aggregate of that activity. Once we take that viewpoint, evolution becomes a logical progression (Torday, Rehan. Evolution, the Logic of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell, July 2017).

  20. Hi Perry,
    If living systems self-organize and self-evolve as you and Steven agree upon, then there will be only two alternatives. Either the living systems’ self- design is induced by an intelligent designer or it is an outcome of a life-organizing principle of natural origin. Steven and intelligent design advocates in general do not define what they call complex specified information operationally in order to reveal the laws governing the origin of such information as a result they treat it on the basis of the laws of physical information. Physical information, Shannon type of information, is a measure of static complexity in bits or bytes; the generation of such information needs an external intelligent source. On the contrary bio-information is self generating, it does not need an external intelligent source, it is self- referential in accordance with the laws of quantum bio-information field, i.e., in accordance with the life-organizing principle. How can we prove that?
    First: Broadening the concept of information
    While physical information is a measure of static complexity, bio-information is a measure of developmental functional complexity and has the dimensions of energy and information since there is no function without energy. Bio-information increases before an organism is fully grown (adult), has a maximum at adulthood, decreases afterwards and becomes zero when the organism dies. So we have a curve (sometimes called vitality curve) which defines the organism bio-complexity at each time. The total area under the bio-information curve measures the organism (as a quantum bio-information field) capacity to generate bio-complexity, we call it bio-intelligence, i.e., bio-intelligence is the capacity to generate bio-complexity or functional structures. The increase of bio-information and in consequence bio-intelligence is subject to the maximum action principle. According to the maximum action principle the rate of change of action correlates to bio-information. Bio-intelligence is the fitness unit of natural selection, i.e., the fittest is the one having greatest bio-intelligence. Therefore bio-intelligence is evolution target criterion. Bio-intelligence, like energy, is conserved and quantized, unlike energy it is subject to the maximum action principle instead of the least action principle.
    Second: Broadening the concept of field
    Again we must distinguish between ordinary conservative physical fields which are subject to point attractors and impose upward causation, e.g., magnetic, electrostatic, gravitational, etc., and organisms as quantum bio-information fields (QBF) subject to periodic bio-information attractors which impose downward causation. A quantum bio-information field (QBF) is a cellular domain of biochemical interactions underpinned by electromagnetic field; it is a function over bio-information and time. The QBF generates self-sustained bio-information oscillations for successive generations which distinguish life from nonlife.
    The QBF is represented by a generalized Schrodinger type of system nonconservative, nonlinear and irreversible; it is periodic bio-information attractor (PBA), it is called the life-organizing principle. The phase of the PBA, by imposing downward causation, contains the dynamical essence of a bio-system because the rate of change of phase which is the rate of change of action is the driving force for bio-information (bio-complexity and gene expression). Moreover the phase is correlated to the system’s bio-intelligence.
    Thus the QBF’s equations describe biotic development and evolution, for example cellular differentiation is a process through which transcription factors activate certain gene expression(s), and it follows based on the activation the PBA undertakes negative damping which maximizes the system’s bio-intelligence. Micro-evolution (beneficial adaptive mutation which overcomes certain stress) is a process through which a maximum action potential, which is phase difference, restructures a genome to regain its initial appropriate bio-intelligence stationary functional state. Moreover, natural genetic engineering (James Shapiro) is a process through which the PBA undertakes negative damping; in consequence macro-evolution exhibits power law distribution of bio-intelligence in agreement with Bak-Paczuski’s self-organized criticality.
    Therefore a new paradigm (Third Way) is emerging according to which evolution is NGE, symbiogenesis, hybridization, etc., and natural selection as mechanism and the maximum action principle as driving force which maximize bio-intelligence.

    2-Elsheikh M. 2014. Discovery of the Life-Organizing Principle – In Search of the Fundamental Laws of Life” published by iUniverse Publisher:

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