Star Larvae Hypothesis
Nature's Plan for Humankind
Introduction: Beyond Darwin and Intelligent Design
Beyond Darwin and Intelligent Design
two-party system (evolution vs. intelligent design) is an obsolete
paradigm. Our hypothesis synthesizes the
thesis-antithesis of evolution and intelligent design into an expanded
model of biology's natural history.
If the evolution/intelligent
design debate finds a resolution in some middle ground, what might that
place look like?
It might look like the star larvae hypothesis, a place where natural selection and scriptural narrative contribute equally little to explaining the world of organic forms. It's a radical middle ground.
Natural selection and intelligent design are candidates running for the same office. Die-hard loyalty to this two-party system is a problem.
A little anarchy might be a good thing, to break up the logjam.
a modest proposal: Rip open the packaged doctrines and spill their contents
on the table. Approach the situation a la carte. Take no prisoners.
Discard the untenable bits and keep whatever strikes you as sensible,
down to details. Re-assemble the remaining pieces and see what you
can create. Can you stitch together an alternative to the orthodoxies,
a scenario more satisfying that either Natural Selection or Intelligent
Pro and Con
to retain from Darwin is the empiricism:
the fossils in the rocks. (A trick to test our faith? Scripture mentions
no such scheme.) The fossil record tells us that the species took longer
than a week to arrive. Scripture flunks the timing test.
But a weakness
of evolution theory, to be discarded, is its overdependence on natural
selection. Biologists have yet to settle on what it is that nature selects:
genes? organisms? traits or whole phenotypes? whole ontogenies? species?
some other division of the organic world? The problem of identifying
the units of selection is compounded by the inability of biologists to
define the foundational terms "gene", "organism", "species",
"trait," "fitness," and so on. Each of these terms
is highly problematic, because
ambiguous cases arise no matter what definition is adopted. In their
introduction to the philosophy of biology,
Sex and Death,
Kim Sterelny and Paul Griffiths lay out the convoluted difficulties involved
in determining which of these terms corresponds to the units of evolutionary
selection. If organic nature is a "seamless web," then what
discrete features can be "selected"? This critique is elaborated
on in a
posting on the Star Larvae blog.
problem with evolution theory targets the conceptual fuzziness of natural selection
itself. In What
Darwin Got Wrong authors,
Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (avowed atheists, they inform readers),
argue that Darwin overstated the power of natural selection, that it
cannot account for how organisms got to be how they got to be. The authors
pick away at the putative logic of natural selection until nothing
remains but grandma’s common-sense intuitions about the natural world.
the book attacks the conceptual rigor of the NeoDarwinian model. The Neo-
part is important, because the authors support their case with findings
from genetic sequencing and analysis. In particular, they lean on a new
discipline called evolutionary developmental biology, or evo-devo, which
has evolved from the discovery that DNA is conserved during evolution.
This means that the genetic makeup of organisms, their genotypes, varies
little across species, relative to the great diversity of phenotypes observed
across species. How does a relatively limited genetic toolkit translate
into so many forms of creatures? That is the question.
lies in the action of "master" genes and their protein-based
"switches." These systems control whole suites of genes, turning
them on and off during development. The authors cite, for example, a master
gene designated Otxi, which influences the development of several seemingly
unrelated organs. They point out, ". . . in particular, since the
Otxi ‘master’ gene controls the development of the larynx,
inner ear, kidneys, and external genitalia and the thickness of the cerebral
cortex, selective pressures sensitive to changes in the functions of
the kidneys (due to bipedal station, or different liquid intake and excretion
resulting from floods or droughts), or the fixation of different sexual
patterns, may have had in turn secondary effects on the expansion of
the cerebral cortex and the structure and function of the larynx."
this example to show that the key theoretical construct of "selected
for," such as selection for long necks among giraffes or for a complex
cerebral cortex among humans, cannot deliver what it is supposed to deliver.
It can't tell an adaptive trait from a trait that coincidentally rides
along with an adaptive one. Too few genes, it turns out, are available
for selection singly. Genes tend to come bundled; they are coextensive.
theory purports to account for the distribution of phenotypic traits
in populations of organisms; and the explanation is supposed to depend
on the connection between phenotypic traits and the fitness of the creatures
whose phenotypes they belong to. But, as it turns out, when phenotypic
traits are (locally or otherwise) coextensive, selection theory cannot
distinguish the trait upon which fitness is contingent from the trait
that has no effect on fitness (and is merely a free rider). Advertising
to the contrary notwithstanding, natural selection can’t be a
general mechanism that connects phenotypic variation with variation
in fitness. So natural selection can’t be the mechanism of
New research data challenge whatever
plausibility evolution theory's Modern Synthesis might have had. Theorists are confronted by new
data that never confronted Darwin. Or Mendel. We know things now that no one knew
even in the years of Crick and Watson. New technologies are force-feeding
evolution theory empirical data that it will not be able to swallow—if
it doesn't adapt.
The new technologies
are DNA sequencing and analysis, and they are making trouble for evolution
theory. Sequencing and analysis research is turning up genetic anomalies
that evolution does not predict and that seem to undermine the assumed
mechanisms of evolution theory. The research has turned up
genetic sequences that are noncoding (nonfunctional) when they occur in
older species but functional (coding) when they occur in newer species. This
parsimony is a conundrum for evolutionists, because evolution theory
allows no prospect of ancestors anticipating the needs of descendants.
Noncoding ("junk") DNA has been a puzzle since its discovery.
Why would species harbor long sequences of DNA that seem to serve no
purpose? But the discovery that one species' trash is another's treasure,
and in particular that junk in older species codes for proteins that
only the metabolisms of newer species can use, challenges evolution theory's
rejection of an evolutionary program. The discovery suggests that the
evolution of species, like the development of organisms, is, at least
to a degree, pre-programmed.
An evolutionist can respond by asserting that nature is resourceful and makes good use of what she
is given. But this is using just-so stories to plug holes
in the theory, a secular adoption of the God-of-the-gaps.
It remains to be seen, but if the coincidences pile up as a result of
ongoing DNA sequencing and comparative genomics, then at some point the house of
cards will collapse, and the theory's premises—particularly its restriction
to nonteleological mechanisms of evolutionary change—will have
to be re-formulated. Such a paradigm shift would fit precisely the process
described in Thomas Kuhn's The
Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
in which Kuhn argues that the major advances in science occur when anomalous
data accumulate beyond the capacity of the prevailing theory to contain.
At that point a more comprehensive theory will usurp the position of the
of evolution implied by the existence of dormant genes in earlier species
that become active in, and are essential to, the metabolisms of later
species, does not, however, necessarily mean that intelligent design,
in its biblical dress, is the only contender left standing.
Design Pro and Con
design has its own problems. Evolution at least gives us an account of
how it works—how the physical objects it proposes to account
for got to be the way they are. Intelligent design doesn't even deliver
that much. If an intelligent supernatural designer is behind nature,
then how does this designer make the transition to intelligent fabricator?
To compete with evolution, intelligent design needs to be about more
than design. It needs to explain the implementation. How, specifically,
does the design get translated into protoplasm?
from the Knight Life by Keith
the atoms into place by mind power? Every proton? Every electron? And
where did the atoms come from anyway—were they just thought into
being—and then pushed by forces outside of physics into DNA molecules—or
into whole organisms? Or after the first generation of organisms did
the designer-fabricator periodically nudge genes into new configurations—beneficial
mutations—to beget new species? The designer-fabricator might still
be at work mutating a gene here, unmutating one there—by mechanisms
that intelligent design cannot describe. Is the Earth hospitable to life because God designed it to be? Every ecological biome? Every niche? Every meal? Where does God relinquish control and allow physical laws to dictate outcomes?
other words, intelligent design flunks the specificity test. It is too
vague to replace the Darwinian model.
in response to this point is "teach the controversy," and let
students decide for themselves. But why? We don’t teach the controversy
in other subjects—or should we? What about the Kennedy assassination?
Maybe American history classes should teach about magic bullets that
exit bodies, spin around in the air, then go back in. Sounds like intelligent
design to me, Martha. Specified complexity, anyone? Maybe
Jesus was no man at all, but code for a psychedelic mushroom or an artifact of Roman propaganda.
Teach the controversy.
Or, maybe the attack of 9/11 was an inside job. An awful lot of security systems
had to fail coincidentally on that particular day to produce the effects
of the 9/11 attack. A gaggle of unskilled pilots had to steer their hijacked
planes awfully precisely. If we’re going to teach intelligent design
in science class, then why not teach conspiracy theories in other classes,
too? After all, that’s what intelligent design theory is—a conspiracy
theory. Things are not as they seem on the surface. Behind
the scenes lurks a mastermind who pulls the strings, arranging events
("coincidences") according to a plan.
even paranoids can have real enemies. And even conspiracy theories can
predict events that come to pass.
life cycle of an organism from fertilized egg to reproductive adult would
seem to be potentially neutral ground for evolution and intelligent
design. In the case of the development of each complex organism, events
unfold according to a plan, however encoded and however subject to environmental influences. The predictability of the course of development
is taken to be an expression of a genetic program, or code. These
terms have teleological implications, and science must concede that
the developmental process—ontogeny—is
an example of teleology operating
in nature—of the outcome being implicit in the process
is the key to assessing evolution
and intelligent design arguments.
pragmatists transfer to the human future the sense of awe and mystery
which the Greeks attached to the non-human; it is transformed into
a sense that the humanity of the future will be, although linked
with us by a continuous narrative, superior to present-day humanity
in as yet barely imaginable ways. It coalesces with the awe we
feel before works of imagination, and becomes a sense of awe before
humanity's ability to become what it once merely imagined, before
its capacity for self-creation."
Philosophy and Social Hope
design proponents are keen to point out that the mechanics of the eye,
for example, mark the organ as an example of design. While Lasik Denver surgeons would agree that the eye is a complex organ, it is not an example of intelligent design. But we know where
eyes come from—from genes—and intelligent design proponents
seem to be content to allow for naturalistic mechanisms taking care
of the genetic transcription and translation and the assembly of the
resulting proteins into functioning eyeballs during the development
of organisms. Or, does the designer nudge the molecules along during
every chemical twist and turn that occurs during the construction of every
eyeball? Again, ID vagueness.
an eyeball is forming in an embryo, the cells are arranging themselves
according to a (genetically and epigenetically influenced) pattern, everyone seems to
agree. Science has no problem with such an ostensible design operating
it comes to the development of an organism. But when applied across
generations, design/teleology is disallowed by the normal theory
of evolution. There is no justifiable reason for such an arbitrary discrimination. It
is a point of doctrine. It is an ideological assertion, a posturing
forced by theophobia.
to the conflict is a natural teleology, a natural design. We have a model,
which is whatever it is that guides each complex organism from fertilized
ovum to adult. It is the process of ontogeny.
embedded in an organismic life cycle, then there should be no problem
adjusting evolution theory to make it conform to a natural teleology. The stellar
life cycle is the ontogeny that contains biological phylogenies.
same system of protein templates—DNA—that is responsible
for a caterpillar being able to dissolve itself utterly and reassemble
at a cellular level into a butterfly, or for a fertilized ovum being
able to develop into an elephant or an acorn into an oak tree, is responsible
for species diversifying across generations. Why should we concede that
DNA works necessarily according to a program in the one instance (development), but
forbid it from doing so in the other (evolution)?
what do we want? What do WE—who regard ourselves as moderns, rationalists,
scientifically minded (or at least, scientifically indoctrinated) sensible—non-superstitious—people
want? We want a natural explanation of the world, one that does not rely
on the "God of the gaps." And we crave meaning for our lives,
individually and collectively. We want to participate in a historical
plot, or telos. Every soul hungers to play a role in a meaningful story.
We want a purpose that is not just our say so, our assignation of purpose
to what we want to do, or find ourselves doing. We want to make a difference.
larvae hypothesis delivers a natural teleology, an account of our purposeful
place in nature that dispenses equally with religious supernaturalism and with
are neither the crown of Creation nor dust in the wind,
but creatures engineering our own transfiguration.
NEXT > Prolog:
The Nature of Meaning and the Meaning of Nature
Star Larvae Hypothesis:
a genus of organism.
The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase.
Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.
hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which
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