The new biology and its implications

There’s an excellent series by James Barham providing a (mainly) layman-level overview of the way that biological science is likely to be headed, on The Best Schools. The link takes you to part VII, and you should scroll down to find links to the whole lot so far near the bottom. You’ll see that he encompasses James Shapiro’s work in one article, which should interest some of my usual readers.

It’s a must-read series, which means there ought to be no point in summarising it. Nevertheless… in fact, all I’ll say is that Barham observes self-organisation as a demonstrable and demonstrated fact of  life (literally). He’s more interested in that fact than in theories to explain it, though he explores these in later episodes , which are accordingly conceptually a bit more difficult to follow. His conviction is that suffient theories of emergence do not yet exist, but that there are enough signs to hope for them in future.

But in the meanwhile he points to what is now apparently an unavoidable conclusion from even current evidence – that there is inherent teleology within living organisms sufficient to warrant the term “intelligence”.  More than that I won’t summarise – the series isn’t that long, for goodness’ sake.

What I will do  is raise some implications of this whole development as food for thought, because if James Shapiro’s book was a “game changer” (as Carl Woese wrote) then the further development of his and similar ideas makes much of the current science-faith discussion irrelevant, or at least poorly focused. So here are some bullet points:

(1) Darwinism, as both an empirical theory and a metaphysical idea is shown to be completely untenable. Teleology is central to life, so a theory that seeks to remove teleology is necessarily wrong. Therefore, it is likely that ignoring teleology, even in small-scale evolutionary mechanisms, will lead to erroneous conclusions.

(2) Evolution, defined simply as descent with modification, is affirmed and becomes more plausible.

(3) The case for design in living organisms made by ID is confirmed in spades, though not directly in the way that most IDers may wish.

(4) This is because the “intelligence” directly detected seems to be within organisms themselves, and therefore apparently “natural”.

(5) Yet current levels of knowledge on emergent systems don’t allow more than wishful thinking about their ability to account for life: currently it’s no more unlikely from the evidence that the teleology observed is God’s rather than the organism’s.

(6) Perhaps it’s most likely that some degree of natural explanation for the operation of such teleological systems will be found. But even if they were, we would be in the same situation as that found with cosmic fine tuning – how can it be that blind cosmic forces would spontaneously unite to create increased order (against the flow of entropy) unless such a capacity were designed in? In other words, finding intrinsic teleology in life poses the same, central, philosophical and theological questions as the existence of the human mind. The necessity for a First Cause remains – and is strengthened immensely by the collapse of the simple, atelogical explanations of Darwinism.

Naturalism looks like having  very few places to hide over the next few decades.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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