Wednesday, November 14, 2007


"There are people with their eyes open
whose hearts are shut. What do they see? Matter."

At the risk of some redundancy with earlier posts, I feel that I have to devote some time to a discussion of Dawkins' first widely popular book, 'The Selfish Gene,' published in 1976. This book, more than any other, has caused deep underlying changes in the way we think about life and deepened the schism between the scientific and spiritual communities. To the torrent of complaints that Dawkins received that his book had caused in his readers severe depression, despair and a kind of spiritual death, Dawkins replied, "If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking will undo it." The purpose of this post is to apply, not wishful thinking, but simple logic, reasoning and common sense to the basic notions of this book, and especially to the theory, or story, of pre-biotic evolution that Dawkins espouses in the chapter of 'The Selfish Gene' called 'The Replicators'.

Pre-biotic evolution purports to explain how things may have evolved prior to the beginning of life. One of the basic tenets (or, as Dawkins' calls them, 'memes') of evolutionary thinking is that things proceed from the simple to the complex. What, then, were the logical steps, from simple to complex, that led to the formation of the first cell and later on to the formation of the bafflingly complex creatures that we see inhabiting the earth today? The impetus for creating this story in the first place, was the discovery, thanks to the invention of progressively more and more powerful microscopes, of greater and greater levels of complexity in the 'simple' cell which, initially, was assumed to be the beginning of the story of evolution. A cell, which grows, genetically replicates, senses its environment, digests, eliminates and moves, could not be explained away by the chance collision of atoms. The scientific community is committed to the basic axiom (another of Dawkins' 'memes') that human intelligence is the only intelligence in the universe, even though, as was discussed in another post, intelligence, human or otherwise, cannot be seen but only inferred. At the same time that we scoff at the idea that life, which is infinitely more complex than any man made creation, was created by an intelligence that transcends our limited human intelligence, we congratulate ourselves for our own brilliance every time we manage to read a map and arrive in one piece at a new destination or remember all the items on our shopping list. To sustain the fantasy of life evolving by 'itself', the story of pre-biotic evolution has been spun out of thin air, and is now accepted as orthodox scientific truth.

The pre-biotic story is laid out in a superficially compelling way in the chapter of 'The Selfish Gene' called 'The Replicators'. This chapter is only eight pages long, but the damage it has caused to the spiritual underpinnings of our thinking cannot be over estimated. The purpose of this post is to repair some of that damage and, to that end, I will analyze each section of this chapter in some detail.

In the first paragraph Dawkins says, "Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is satisfying because it shows us a way in which simplicity could change into complexity, how unordered atoms could group themselves into ever more complex patterns until they ended up manufacturing people." Yes. It is especially satisfying to people who are married to the notion (the meme) that human intelligence is the ultimate intelligence in the universe, even though the only purpose of that intelligence is to try to figure out how this universe, which has already been created, works. Those people who believe that consciousness and intelligence are not the accidental outgrowths of a blind process of evolution, but are the origin, are the foundation out of which evolution comes, don't see the universe as moving from the simple to the complex, but from the subtle to the gross, from the spiritual to the physical, and then back again.

For Dawkins to talk about Darwin in relation to the grouping of atoms is completely fanciful. Darwin mentions nothing about the grouping of atoms. Darwin also reached no definitive conclusion regarding the origin of life. He wrote of the "Origin of the Species", not the origin of life. He was concerned with the ways in which life forms, from the supposedly 'simple' one celled beings to the complex creatures that we see today, develop different traits, different ways in which they sense and move about in and communicate with their environment. It is terribly important to have a sense of the difference between the essence of life and the variety of forms and traits that life takes ( see the post Life vs. Traits). Darwin's theories of evolution and natural selection go as far back as the cell. To extrapolate back past the cell to an 'evolution' of molecules and then an evolution of 'replicating' molecules is a stretch that Darwin never intended. Whether he would welcome these conjectures or be appalled by them is anyone's guess. My issue with pre-biotic evolution theories is not whether they are congruent with traditional Darwinism, but whether they are congruent with simple logic and reason.

In fact, with our modern understanding of 'simple one celled creatures' it turns out that Darwin was not talking about an evolution from the simple to the complex at all. He was talking about changes from complex to complex. Modern human beings may be more intelligent than our forebears on this planet, but to think that the one hundred trillion celled human is more complex that the ten quadrillion celled brontosaurus, that somehow this involves an evolution from the simple to the complex; when a single eukaryotic cell, which is the building block of all plant and animal life, defies our understanding at every level, this notion, of simple to complex, may have a pleasing, romantic simplicity to those people that cling to the 'simple to complex' meme and to the 'atheistic' meme, but it makes no actual sense.

Then, Dawkins spends two paragraphs talking about how nature, prior to the advent of life, can evolve from atoms into complex molecules. He mentions soap bubbles, salt crystals and diamonds. Fine. All this makes perfect sense in terms of what we know of the structure of atoms. They will bond with other atoms to form molecules with either covalent, ionic, hydrogen, metallic or Van der Waals bonds. All of these have to do with electromagnetism and the attraction and repulsion of ions and protons. But, then he leaves diamonds and salt and spends a long paragraph describing the enormous complexity and precision of the hemoglobin molecule as an example of the natural evolution of atoms from simplicity to complexity prior to the advent of life. But hold on! Hemoglobin is the molecule found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is produced by living beings. He calls hemoglobin a 'modern' molecule, conveniently leaving out the fact that hemoglobin is a product of life, not part of any causal build up to life.

Having snuck in the structure of hemoglobin molecules, Dawkins now makes it more plausible for the reader to think of a molecule coming together from the natural collisions and combinings of atoms, that is of sufficient complexity in order to replicate. The truth of the matter is that there is no molecule that even remotely approaches the complexity of the DNA molecule found in the world outside of those that are the result of the miraculous processes of genetic replication using material prepared by the miraculous processes of digestion and fueled by the miraculous processes of metabolism within living beings. And this, of course, is the crux of the whole thing. He has to plausibly get to a molecule that replicates by 'itself' (even though molecules don't have selves as was discussed earlier). The point of 'pre-biotic' evolution is that life does not begin with a cell, which is too complex. It begins with a replicating molecule, a 'molecule that makes copies of itself.' The obvious candidate for this replicating molecule would be DNA, since DNA is an integral part of every replication of every cell on this planet. But, much to the chagrin of the 'pre-biotic' evolutionists, DNA had to be rejected as the candidate for the original 'replicator'. Why? Because, first of all, DNA does not replicate, at least not outside of a cell. In fact, DNA replication is always part of a whole cell's replication, and energy is provided by the cell to enable the DNA to perform the processes of replication. Allthough many attempts have been made to remove DNA from a cell and surround it with all the appropriate organic materials (which, aside from a laboratory, would not be found naturally outside of a cell), they never resulted in replication . The second reason for its rejection was that it was just too complex. It was too hard to imagine the DNA molecule, with a genetic code of nucleotides, forming from the random movements of atoms. A simpler molecule had to be conjured up, although no one has any idea what this molecule was made of, they are certain that it was simpler than DNA, because, after all, things always begin with simplicity.

So, what is this replicating molecule? No one knows! Supposedly, superior replicating molecules have evolved and devoured the originals. So no one has seen this replicating molecule, no one has seen any remnants of this molecule, and no one has seen any molecule, DNA or otherwise, that can replicate outside of a cell. All the neo-Darwinists are convinced that this molecule was 'simpler' than DNA, because it is an unquestioned truth in their community that all things begin with simplicity and evolve into complexity. So no one has seen this molecule, no one has seen any molecule that makes copies of itself outside of DNA which always replicates as a part of a whole cell's replication, and no one has any idea what it was made of. Yet, this 'replicator' has become the foundation for the ENTIRE neo-Darwinist theory of the origin of life and evolution.

In the 'Replicators' Dawkins goes on to describe 'the primeval soup'. This is yet another fabrication of the neo-Darwinists, based on conjectures of what the earth may have been like 4 billion years ago. What is postulated is that their were large organic molecules floating around in seas on this planet prior to the advent of life. Dawkins writes , 'Nowadays large organic molecules would not last long enough to be noticed: they would be quickly absorbed and broken down by bacteria or other living creatures. But bacteria and the rest of us are late-comers, and in those days large organic molecules could drift unmolested through the thickening broth." Unmolested? By predators, yes, but, remember, we are talking about organic material that is not protected by the walls of a cell, or by the cell's own commitment to it's survival. We are talking about carbon compounds somehow combining into amino acids, and amino acids combining into proteins, and proteins combining, along with sugars which react strongly with amino acids and affect their synthesis, combining with, modestly, millions of nucleotides, miraculously arranged in perfect sequences, all of which combinations supposedly took many, many millions of years to achieve. Again, I remind you that we are not talking about living things yet. We are talking about a supposed chemical evolution leading up to life. So these organic materials are not beginning a task and leaving their progeny to finish it. There is no progeny. We are talking about exactly the same compounds combining and staying in tact for millions of years. So, yes, there were no predators to molest these molecules, but how about heat above 50 degrees Centigrade or below thirty degrees Centigrade? How about too much acid or base in the pre-biotic solution? Then there are other products of biochemical reactions that would occur and that have occurred under experimental conditions that would be fatal to this process. These include ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, cyanides and carbon monoxide. Also, heavy metal ions are destructive of organic material. Then there is sunlight which contains both wave lengths that are chemical building and wave lengths that are chemical destroying. Amino acids are very delicate and readily breakdown in sunlight. Ultra-violet light also penetrates to several meters of water, destroying and breaking down organic material well below the ocean surface. Even any movement that is agitated will break up polypeptide bonds and denature protein, as anyone who has whipped cream or beaten an egg can attest. And these are just some of the concerns that scientists have begun to have with 'chemical evolution' since the giddy time over fifty years ago when Miller and Urey produced some carbon compounds in a test tube and people thought that the manufacture of a life form under laboratory conditions was just around the corner. On the contrary, now, many scientists have abandoned the primeval soup theory and have looked to other scenarios including: alongside thermal vents on the ocean floor, in shallow tide pools, anaerobically, deep within the crust of the earth, or that extremophile life was transported here from other planets, embedded in meteors.

Although many of these arguments are found in textbooks under the heading 'Origin of Life' they are not really about the origin of life, but about the theoretical build up to the origin. Pre-biotic evolution theories purport to explain no more than how all the materials necessary for life might have gotten assembled. They do not explain life itself. That part, how a non-living molecule becomes alive, is what is of real interest here, and we will spend quite a bit of time on it.

Dawkins says, on p.15, "At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator. It may not necessarily have been the biggest or the most complex molecule around, but it had the extraordinary property of being able to create copies of itself. This may seem a very unlikely sort of accident to happen. So it was. It was exceedingly improbable. In the lifetime of a man, things that are that improbable can be treated for practical purposes as impossible. That is why you will never win a big prize on the football pools. But in our human estimates of what is probable and what is not, we are not used to dealing in hundreds of millions of years. If you filled in pools coupons every week for a hundred million years you would very likely win several jackpots."

Please look carefully at this example. Winning the football pools is highly improbable, but not impossible. No one would call it impossible. Some one buys coupons every week, they may win or not win. It is a question of probabilities. But aren't there some things that are impossible? If I said that in my lifetime I never saw a rock talk or a puddle of water dance a jig, would it be reasonable, then, to say, that if I lived for a hundred million years I would very likely see these things several times? If we had billions of molecules that were trying to replicate for a hundred million years, then maybe one time they would succeed. But are molecules trying to replicate? What are molecules trying to do, anyway? They are trying to do nothing, of course; they are molecules. They are not doing anything and they are not making anything. They are just molecules. Don't confuse molecules prior to life with molecules as they function in a living being. You can take a liver freshly removed from a living human body at which point it is a couple of pounds of meat and an enormous collection of molecules encased in cells, but if you are able to transplant that liver into another human being and it becomes part of the nexus of will, consciousness and intelligence, that is that person's life, then that liver, and the molecules within it, start performing all sorts of difficult and precise functions. But a molecule, prior to life, outside of life, is a molecule, a piece of lifeless matter. It is not purchasing pool coupons and it is not trying to replicate. It is not even an 'it', but more of this later.

Here's the next paragraph, "Actually a molecule that makes copies of itself is not as difficult to imagine as it seems at first, and it only had to arise once. Think of the replicator as a mould or template. Imagine it as a large molecule consisting of a complex chain of various sorts of building block molecules. The small building blocks were abundantly available in the soup surrounding the replicator. Now suppose that each building block has an affinity for its own kind. Then whenever a building block from out in the soup lands up next to a part of the replicator for which it has an affinity, it will tend to stick there. The building blocks that attach themselves in this way will automatically be arranged in a sequence that mimics that of the replicator itself. It is easy then to think of them joining up to form a stable chain just as in the formation of the original replicator. This process could continue as a progressive stacking up, layer upon layer. This is how crystals are formed. On the other hand, the two chains might split apart, in which case we have two replicators, each of which can go on to make further copies."

Yes, if you think of the replicator as a mould or a template, then this all makes sense, but all Dawkins is describing here is the construction of a crystal. He has completely ignored the supposed essential action of this molecule. It is not building up mass like a crystal, it is not just glomming more material onto itself. It is replicating. What does that mean exactly? I am going to focus in on three words of that paragraph. Dawkins is talking about a molecule that 'MAKES COPIES of ITSELF'. Let's look at each of these words separately and what they actually mean in this context.

MAKES. Dawkins is talking about a molecule that is making something. According to Dawkins, et. al's understanding of the world, what else have molecules made up until this point in time? Absolutely nothing. In fact, nothing has made nothing up until that moment. Prior to life, according to Dawkins, there was no will, no intelligence, no imagination, no thought, not even an "it" in terms of anything that would be an agent for 'making' or 'doing' anything. All that there was prior to that moment was passive matter. In other words, things moved, heated up, cooled down, exploded and shrank, but each of those actions was a reaction traceable to some prior action. In a later paragraph of the same chapter Dawkins says, "Should we then call the original replicator molecules 'living'? Who cares?" Well, I do for one. Isn't that the whole point of this story, to explain the beginning of life? If it were a chapter about Arabian race horses or the history of the Balkan Wars, I wouldn't care in the least. But if you start out by telling us that you will now explain how life began, then, whether or not these replicators were living is not only an issue, but it is the issue.

My point is that we have no experience of anything initiating any activity or making anything whatsoever except living beings or machines conceived and constructed by living beings. That is one of the hallmarks of life, that it has the capacity to initiate action. It is even built into our language. You can say a bird makes a nest, a dog makes a hole, but it makes no sense to say that a rock or a puddle of water makes anything. The moment you say a molecule 'makes' that molecule has become something completely different than anything that existed prior to that moment. It has become alive, but how that happened is not addressed. It has been omitted, skipped over. We went from molecules that stick to each other, as in a crystal, to molecules making copies of themselves without ever discussing it, beyond saying that it was very unusual.

COPIES. Making copies seems to be a daunting task, but not unimaginable. After all, we have copying machines that can turn out many, many copies of an original document. Putting aside the fact that copy machines were created by human beings, supposedly the most advanced product of this process of evolution, is replication the same as copying? If there were no copying machine, no equipment whatsoever, and a document were just splitting by itself and forming two documents, each of which, in turn, split to form two more, this would be closer to it, but still not really replication. In another book, Dawkins goes to great length to liken biological replication to digital reproduction. The difference, though, is that while digital reproduction reproduces a signal, biological reproduction reproduces a three dimensional being that grows, replicates, is aware of its environment, etc. So what are we talking about here? If you believe that biological replication began with a replicating molecule (which I don't) or a replicating cell (which I do) what is replication, really?

If replication were only the exact reproduction of a three dimensional DNA molecule, with it's millions and billions of components and it's delicate spiralling structures of enzymes and sugars, that would be a miraculous feat, in and of itself. But replication is not merely the reproduction of matter. The new DNA molecule has the exact desire and will to replicate as the first one does, is exactly as alive and willful as the original. If replication were merely the reproduction of matter, we would be as joyous and celebratory at the birth of a still born baby as a live one. The thing that overwhelms you, when you are having a child, is not just all those perfect toes and fingers and eyes, it is the perfect being that is looking back at you from behind those perfect eyes. Your baby is exactly as alive and willful, as intelligent and conscious, as you are. That is the miracle of replication. That is what gets your heart pounding and your knees knocking. Two have become three. And that is what was left out of the obstetrics manual that you had dutifully studied for the previous nine months. Somehow, at some moment, a new life, a new soul, a new being, was slipped into those proteins that were multiplying inside your wife's belly. That is replication. And that is exactly what is happening in your body a trillion times over as one cell becomes two, each as alive and willful as the first one. Each as transfused with intelligence and purpose as the original. This miracle of replication is what is happening a quadrillion quintillion times at every moment on this teeming planet. Put aside your expertise, your professionalism, your stable definitions of who you are and what the world is. Put aside your 'memes.' Can you hear the roar and whoosh of it? Can you feel the power and majesty of it? Can you sense the awesome intelligence of it? And you, your body and your mind, are an integral part of it. The ecstatic experience of realizing that you are surrounded by and are part of this miraculous creativity at every moment, is the very experience that Dawkins would lull you out of by his smug, ungrateful, tedious talk of digital reproduction and molecules blindly, purposelessly, by random chance, making copies of themselves.

ITSELF. So what is a self? Dawkins contends that the replicator is a molecule that makes copies of itself. This implies the notion of independent action. The molecule is accomplishing this replication, this miracle, by itself. This is a hugely important point, because whether you believe that evolution begins with the replication of a molecule, or the replication of a cell, if you believe that replication is happening by itself, that the molecule or the cell is an independent agent and gets no assistance, then, that is the beginning of the death of gratitude. If the miracle of replication happens by chance, by a freak accidental collision of atoms, which in turn forms a molecule capable, by itself, of the miracle of replication, then Dawkins is right, Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, the ancient Egyptians, the Aztecs, Incas and Sufis are wrong, and there is no one or nothing to thank. We are completely independent agents, each cell is a completely independent entity, doing it's myriad functions completely by itself, and we are separate, independent machines whose sole purpose is to try to survive. If Dawkins is wrong and the molecule is not replicating by 'itself' because it has no self, then every mystic down through the ages is right and the first molecule, or cell, is replicated by the consciousness, will and intelligence of the cosmic mind, the cosmic consciousness, God the Father, the Tao, the Divine, or whatever you choose to call it, that was there from the beginning. We, then, rather than being independent entities, are connected with bonds of consciousness and gratitude to the entire universe.

So, again, what is a self? Suppose I build a box, and inside the box I place a thermostat and a tape recorder. I set up this equipment so that when the temperature rises a tape plays that says , "Hot enough, for you?" When the temperature goes down, a different tape plays that says, "Cold enough, for you?" Now when you hear either of those sentences coming out of that box you don't stop for a moment to consider that there is anything in that box that is actually feeling hot or cold, do you? And, certainly, you don't consider that there is anything in that box that is interested in your welfare or that seeks to make dialogue with you, do you? Now, let's get more sophisticated. Suppose I build another box on which I paint or sculpt a very human looking face. Behind the eyes of that face I have a camera hooked up to more equipment that can recognize a variety of things in your appearance and your movement. Now I have fifty different tapes that can say fifty different observational things about you like, "Looks like you could use a cup of coffee,' or "Want to talk about it?" Are we still clear that no matter how much equipment I stuff into that box, and how realistic I make the shape of that box to resemble a human being, that there is nothing in that box that feels, or experiences any mood that I am in, or that actually sees or hears me? Also, that there is nothing in that box that has any concern for me or my welfare? Good. On the other hand, you know that if you have a cat or a dog, even if they can't articulate it, it is clear that they can see you, and that they do respond to things that you do. Your cat or dog can get very excited about the food that you serve them when they are really hungry, while your most sophisticated computer has no excitement, whatsoever, when it gets a tune up, even if that tune up is desperately needed. There is nothing in the computer that experiences a need for anything, that experiences a desire or the fulfillment of that desire. If a computer needs a repair a warning light, or an icon, may flash, but the computer is not concerned about whether or not it gets repaired, or whether it functions at all. Your pets, however, do have a concern about their survival, and getting their needs met. There is an 'it' there. The dog or the cat experiences things and non-living matter does not.

Where in the body of the cat or the dog is that center of experience located? Is it behind the eyes? Although it seems to reside there most of the time, it is not necessarily behind one's eyes. When your eyes are closed, or you are dreaming, or if you lose your sight, you still continue to experience things. The ground of being is still in tact, but the location has changed. Is it in some place in the brain? I hesitate to substitute the word consciousness for the ground of being because scientists like Dawkins will quickly confuse the contents of consciousness with consciousness itself. Elsewhere, Dawkins writes that we developed consciousnes because it was advantageous to our survival to have a picture of ourselves in our minds. This, of course, confuses consciousness with self-consciousness, a mental image of one's self with the actual self that is experiencing the image. Scientists can now track almost every aspect of consciousness, every thing you might be thinking or feeling, to some electrical or chemical pattern in the brain. These patterns are not consciousness, however, but the antecedents of consciousness. You still have to translate these patterns into actual thoughts and feelings, into experience. So consciousness is not those electrical or chemical patterns, and it is not those thoughts, images or feelings, which are contents of consciousness, but not consciousness itself. Consciousness is that which experiences that. Consciousness is the non-physical ground of your experience. It is the empty bowl within which you experience your life. This consciousness, or ground of being, is still there even if a life form does not have a brain, per se. If a being is responsive to its environment in any way, if it can distinguish what is edible from what is harmful, if it moves toward what it desires and avoids or protects itself from what will do it harm, then that being has some form of consciousness. That being is experiencing something. That being has a will and the capacity to initiate action. That being has a self.

In the next paragraph Dawkins says, "Previously it is probable that no particular kind of complex molecule was very abundant in the soup, because each was dependent on building blocks happening to fall by luck into a particular stable configuration. As soon as the replicator was born it must have spread its copies rapidly throughout the seas, until the smaller building block molecules became a scarce resource, and other larger molecules were formed more and more rarely." Why? How does the replicator spread copies if it's not by the chance passage of the proper building blocks in the soup? Can the replicator move? In the previous paragraph Dawkins uses the word 'affinity' twice to describe the attraction that building blocks of the replicator molecule might have for building blocks in the 'soup'. But what is that affinity? Are we talking about something electro-magnetic, one of the normal chemical bonds that we know of? If that were so, the replicator would still be as dependent after replication as it was before replication for the chance passage of appropriate building block materials. Or are we talking about another kind of affinity, which is the affinity that a living being has for something that it needs? If that is the case, then this 'molecule' would have to have some kind of consciousness to discern where in the soup these needed building blocks were located, and it would have to have some kind of locomotion to get to the building block after it was located. So either we have a molecule which has to continue to wait passively (if it took a hundred million years for the first occurrence, then it would take another hundred million for the second), or we have a 'molecule' which is actively searching for building block materials in which case we don't have a molecule at all, but a living being with consciousness, desire and locomotion; and the 'affinity' that Dawkins speaks of is 'will' which is no more a function of the molecule 'itself' than the will that is beating our hearts and growing our cells and energizing the ten quadrillion simultaneous biological processes of our bodies is something that we are doing by ourselves.

Now I want you to look again at the above paragraph. Thirty years after the publication of this book, 'The Selfish Gene,' Dawkins wrote in the preface to the most recent edition that, aside from a small concern that he may now have about the title he will let it all stand as is. Therefore, we can assume that he and his editors considered carefully the following phrase, "As soon as the replicator was BORN...." Of course, how else could you describe the creation of an object that replicates and seeks out material for replication except to say that it was a birth. Astoundingly, on exactly the same page, page sixteen, he describes the virgin birth of Jesus to be the result of a translation error from the Hebrew word for 'young woman' to the Greek word for 'virgin'. The implication being that the only possible explanation for a virgin birth would be a mistake in the translation. Yet, on the very same page he is talking about the birth of a replicator molecule which is missing not one parent, but two. If you cannot explain a birth if there is only one parent, how can you explain a birth when there are no parents? One is considered a silly myth propagated by people with foolish beliefs, and the other, the one that is not just highly improbable, but flat out impossible, is now considered sober, scientific fact!

Dawkins may not be interested in whether or not the replicator is alive, but if he claims that this molecule is making copies of 'itself', by itself, then he is conferring on it selfhood and will. In other words he is not just saying that accidentally a molecule started making copies of itself, he is saying that accidentally a molecule had come to life. Dawkins explanation, then, for the beginning of life is exactly no explanation. All the talk of the evolution of more complex molecules is irrelevant. All the talk of a pre-biotic soups irrelevant. There was a molecule and then there was a living thing called a replicator, with no parents, no build up, nothing. There was no life; there was a freakish accident, and then, poof!, there was. Dawkins explanation of the beginning of life is no explanation at all.

The next two pages of the chapter are a sort of boiler plate list of evolutionary principles which make some kind of sense when you are talking about the replication of living beings. What kind of sense do these principles make when you are talking about the replication of molecules? Dawkins talks about how copying errors create new varieties and how some of these new varieties may have a survival advantage over the originals. So, he is now fantasizing about many varieties of 'replicating' molecules competing for survival. This is remarkable, considering that we cannot even imagine, discover, or genetically alter one molecule that can replicate outside of a cell. The process of replication in Dawkins' description has suddenly become genetic replication. Where did that come from? We were discussing how crystals are formed, when the building block of one molecule bonds with another, and suddenly we are discussing a process of genetic replication. The only explanation for its arrival is that it was an admittedly weird accident.

Then he mentions how molecules with greater longevity would have an advantage over molecules with shorter longevity. Wait! Is he still talking about molecules? What longevity is there in a molecule. If a molecule is not alive, there is no life span, so he would be talking about the sturdiness of a molecule, its ability to stay in tact. But the replicating molecule would have to be made of millions of parts, all in exact arrangements and shapes and all connected by delicate bonds, which is why the DNA in our cells is protected by two membranes, the nuclear membrane and the outer wall of the cell. These delicate peptide and sulfide bonds are vulnerable to temperature changes, exposures to many types of elements, including oxygen and carbon dioxide, heavy metal ions, many other organic compounds, alcohols, and any compound that has the same chemical composition but the wrong physical structure (right handed instead of left handed carbon compounds or left handed instead of right handed sugars). Organic matter is also vulnerable to any strong movement and to ultra-violet light. Now keep in mind, that, according to this theory, all the components of the replicating molecule were not alive until the moment of replication, and, even then, according to the theory, their 'aliveness' was questionable. If they were not alive then there were no ancestors to begin this work of pre-biotic evolution, and no progeny to continue it. That means that the very same carbon compounds that amazingly came together to form amino acids, by themselves, and the amino acids that amazingly came together to form proteins, and the proteins that came together in millions of microscopic parts, in exactly the right shape and formation to form a molecule capable of replication, were precisely the same compounds, acids and proteins that had begun to come together hundreds of millions of years earlier! If we are to believe that all these millions of components had held together through volcanoes, storms, tectonic plate shifts, meteor bombardments, enormous temperature changes, and all of the other vicissitudes of the first hundreds of millions of years of our earth's history, why would there be any issue of longevity? On the other hand, if it is 'alive' then we are talking about life spans, about birth, maturation and death, but what life span could there be if there is no body? Also, the way our replicating molecule, DNA, contorts itself, as part of a whole cells replication, the complex gymnastics it goes through and then returns to its exact original shape, cannot be explained by simple physics and chemistry. This is a function of the will of the cell to survive and maintain its shape, which is not understood at all by modern science. If we do not begin to understand it, how can we pretend to explain how it was created?

Same goes for 'fecundity' which is the next topic on Dawkins' evolutionary checklist. What sense does fecundity make when you are talking about a molecule? If we are discussing cellular replication, yes, the cell, or the organism, cannot replicate again until it has grown and matured. But what maturation process would there be for a molecule that has no body attached to it? If it could replicate, why couldn't it immediately turn around and replicate again? Although Dawkins doesn't want to discuss whether or not the replicator molecule is alive, everything he is theorizing is predicated on these molecules not only being alive, but having mortal bodies, discernment and will. When he is talking about a survival advantage of one molecule over another, what advantage could he be talking about? Would one type of molecule move faster than another type? Then, we are talking about molecules with locomotion. Would one type of molecule survive longer than another type? Then, we are talking about lifespans. Would one type be able to find the materials it needs for replication better than another? Again, we are talking about a living being that can move, and discern what it needs from its surrounding environment.

Now Dawkins makes a point of saying that these molecules, creatures, whatever, do not want to evolve. That nothing really wants to evolve. Well, the replicators may not want to evolve, but they sure as hell want to replicate! In fact, it is the incessant drive and competition to replicate, that is the motor that drives this whole fantasy. How did the whole process of digestion begin? "Some of them (the replicators) may even have 'discovered' how to break up molecules of rival varieties chemically, and to use the building blocks so released for making their own copies," Dawkins writes. Gee, what a neat discovery. Too bad our Nobel Laureate scientists can't come up with anything approaching that. How, pray tell, could a replicator, a microscopic piece of protein, make such a discovery? And how would a molecule execute this discovery once it had discovered it? It would have to manufacture a chemical by a process of digestion and then secrete it at its rival. Where would we find the organs of digestion and secretion in a molecule? It is insulting enough to claim that cells are doing these kinds of things, digestion and secretion, by themselves, but to claim that a molecule is doing it by itself is insulting not just to people of a spiritual persuasion but to anyone who can think.

"Other replicators perhaps discovered how to protect themselves, either chemically, or by building a physical wall of protein around themselves. This may have been how the first living cells appeared." There are myriad reasons why this statement is utterly devoid of meaning or sense, but I will just mention a few. First of all, a single celled organism, as with any living being, behaves as a unit. It is not a DNA molecule with a coat on. It is a unitary being. To say that growing a body is like building a wall, or putting on a protective coat, is an attempt to trivialize and demystify a process that is wondrous, in the same way that calling the replication of a living being, even a cell, a copying process, trivializes that process in a way that gives us the illusion that it is understood when it is not understood in the most fundamental way. Putting on a coat, or building a wall, is something that we can understand, although having a molecule put on a coat or build a wall does take a remarkable stretch of the imagination. Putting on a body, though, is very different than putting on a coat. Our body is the physical extension of ourself. It is an indivisible unit. Our commitment to survival extends to every part of our body. Our digestion feeds every part. When we move, we don't leave parts of ourselves behind. When we grow, we grow as a proportional whole. Every cell in every part of our body works in perfect harmony with every other cell to guarantee our moment to moment survival. But to think of the cell, surrounding the nucleus, as a protective wall, that the will, energy and commitment to survive are all coming from the nucleus and the surrounding cell is merely a buffer, does not compute with anything that we know about the cell, or with our experience of our own bodies.

An entire set of genes is located in the nucleus of every cell. At different times, those same set of genes guide the construction of our fetal body, our infant body, our child body and our adult body. The same set of genes that guides the construction of the caterpillar, guides the construction of the butterfly. Depending on the creature, there are many thousands, or millions or billions of genes. But the selection of which genes are used to manufacture which enzyme at any given moment emanates, at least on the physical plane, not from the nucleus to the outer cell but from the outer cell to the nucleus. If we draw an analogy from the world of computing, the nucleus contains the coding for many, many programs. The rest of the cell decides which program it needs at which moment. The cell is also the equipment that the codes are built to operate in, and the survival of the cell, is the purpose for which the codes exist in the first place. The argument that the genes, or the replicating nucleus, serves the surrounding cell, is just as strong, if not stronger, than the argument that the surrounding cell serves the nucleus. Dawkins may try to separate them (the nucleus and the surrounding cell) in an attempt to conform to his 'simple to complex meme,' but, in truth, they cannot be separated, any more than you can say, regarding any object, that the inside preceded the outside, or the left side preceded the right side.

If we humored Dawkins and tried to imagine how this process of cell building would begin, what would we think? Would the molecule pull something toward it and hold it to itself for protection? We can imagine ourselves doing such a thing, but how would a molecule do it? What part of the molecule would discern what it needs for protection? What part would hold this material to it? And at what point, either in the example of ourselves or the 'replicator' does that material that is clinging to us, or it, miraculously transform from something adjacent but external to ourselves, to something that is an integral, indivisible part of our will and our selves. That is a mystery that neither Dawkins, nor anyone, can begin to explain for any creature much less for a 'replicating molecule.' Again, if you don't understand it, how can you pretend to know how it originated?

Also, the purpose of the genetic code, at least the one purpose that has been detected by Western science to this point, is the manufacture of proteins. These proteins form the physical contents of the bodies surrounding the genes. How these bodies take on a particular shape, how they are filled with intelligence, will and consciousness, and the involvement of the genes in any of this, has not yet been determined. But if the sole determined purpose of the genes is protein manufacture, how can you imagine sets of genes in a 'replicating molecule' miraculously replicating for hundreds of millions of years without ever functioning? In other words, you have this fantastically elaborate equipment to manufacture protein that miraculously replicates for all that time without ever being used. That would be like cook books being printed for millions of years, over and over again, without any kitchens, any stoves or any cooks; with untold numbers of recipes but nothing ever being cooked or eaten; or countless numbers of software programs being replicated with no computers to play them on, no screens to see them on and no people to use or enjoy them. If the sole detectable function of genes is to manufacture proteins to build and maintain bodies, how can you imagine genes being replicated over and over again without ever being used? Yet, here we have Dawkins fantasizing about molecules genetically replicating, by themselves, for hundreds of millions of years and THEN 'discovering' how to build bodies.

Now, to complete his explanation for the origin of life, Dawkins adds two things. One is that there was a competition, initially not for food, but for material to replicate building blocks. And the second, is that in the genetic replicating process, which in all its wondrous complexity just started operating one day on its own, mistakes are occasionally made. Of these rare mistakes, once in a very great while, a mistake is made that enhances the survival prospects of the 'mistake' over its fellow replicators, so that this new replicator soon devours and dominates the others. Keep in mind that there is nothing in this process of 'copying mistakes' that expands the number of genes or the amount of genetic information. It is merely one or several genes swapping for one or several others. The resultant 'mistake' never has more genes, more genetic information, more complexity than the original. This process may explain in a superficial way (superficial because any biological process that is explained purely on the physical plane is incomplete) why we have blue eyes rather than brown, or a flat rather than an aquiline nose, but aside from the swapping of traits, it offers no explanation as to how beings would grow more complex, develop new organs or change their shape in any fundamental way. Yet it is on this fragile, rickety scaffold of replicator molecules, that no one has ever seen or can even imagine, and this system of fortuitous genetic mistakes based on a code that no one ever invented, that Dawkins has the audacity to hang the entire creation of life on this teeming planet. Where did the nervous system come from? The replicators, by chance, discovered how to build a nervous system and those that had a nervous system prevailed over those that didn't. What about the brain? Easy! Another invention, by chance, of the replicators, and those with a brain had an advantage over those that didn't; so, voila! brains. Consciousness? The replicators that discovered, by chance, consciousness, were better able to protect themselves over the replicators that had no consciousness. Eyes, ears, hearts, swimming, flying, thinking, loving, the origin of whatever you can find that's alive on this wondrous planet, can now be reduced to the same stultifyingly mundane, idiotic and meaningless formula. It gave the replicator molecule an advantage.

Even if all of this fantasy were true, you would still have to explain this ceaseless will of the replicators. Why do they keep, endlessly trying to replicate? What is the source of that drive which is completely different than any other force in the universe. First there was electro-magnetism, gravity, the strong force (that binds the nucleus of atoms together) and the weak force (that binds sub-atomic particles). Now, suddenly, there is will, the will to replicate, with discernment and locomotion to serve this will. Where did it come from? Dawkins' explanation: a very weird accident.

The repercussions of creating the fantasy of these replicating molecules as the underpinning of all of life are enormous. What has been imagined are creatures that are alive to this extent: they have no consciousness, no intelligence, no interest at all, except for their single minded and relentless need to replicate. If the cell were postulated as the beginning of evolution then the driving force of evolution could be seen as the expansion of consciousness, since the cell has a responsiveness to its environment, has a ground of being. If it were thought about deeply, even the replicator would have a ground of being, because the replicator would need some form of discernment to locate what materials it needs for replication. If there is discernment and will, then there has to be a ground of being, a non-physical reference point that experiences that will and that discernment. Then, instead of thinking of the process of evolution as the ruthless development of more and more efficient replication machines, we might think of evolution as the development of more and more expansive forms of consciousness.

And finally Dawkins writes, “Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use, and that the mere presence in the dictionary of a word like ‘living’ does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world.” And what of the human suffering caused by people that espouse a view that life, consciousness, purpose, will, God and oneness have no reality and that vicious, mindless, relentless replicator molecules that no one has ever seen or can even conceive of in any detail, not only do have reality, but are the basic underlying reality of all of life?

By 'something definite in the real world,' Dawkins means something you can feel, taste, touch and measure. By this standard, everything in life that is truly meaningful has no reality, and that includes love and one’s self. How can we define living , Dawkins wonders? Answer: something is living if it experiences things. And all of experience, including mine, yours and Dawkins’, cannot be felt, tasted, touched, seen or measured by anyone but one’s self. If you tell me you are seeing a gorgeous sunset, I can perhaps do a scan and see an electrical pattern in your brain, but the manner in which that pattern get translated into your actual experience of a sunset, or how Dawkins’ brain patterns get translated into the cynical words that you read in his books, is a mystery that cannot be solved by the scientific method of observation and measurement. And more mysterious than that, is the ground of that experience, which is you. That you, which is not the content, but the context of your entire experience of life, even Dawkins’ experience of life, is not in the physical universe. It is immutable and immeasurable. Is it real? It’s the only reality, ultimately. All the attributes of those ‘definite’ things that Dawkins measures melt away into molecules when we look at them under the microscope. Those solid molecules then melt away into atoms, and those solid atoms melt into sub-atomic particles separated by huge spaces when we look through instruments of higher and higher magnification. What happened to that definite, solid, measurable world? It disappeared. But you, the observer, are still there, just as you always have been and always will be.

Soon after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of England in 1979, Steven Rose wrote in New Scientist: "......the switch in scientific fashion, if only from group to kin selection models in evolutionary theory, will come to be seen as part of the tide which has rolled the Thatcherites and their concept of a fixed, 19th century competitive and xenophobic human nature into power." And, this is not just a political tide. It seems that every aspect of life has been infected by a cynicism which mistrusts anything that even hints of idealism or alludes to any motive beyond our most narrowly defined selfishness. Has the 'meme' of the mindless, ruthless, replicators as the sole foundation of our existence infected our entire culture? Now we seem on the brink of catastrophe, as armed camps of religious sectarians face each other down, and huge masses of bewildered atheists sit on the side lines feeling confused by, but still superior to, the passions on either side. While some people worship Allah, some worship Jesus, some worship proteins and some worship replicator molecules, the Nameless One is erupting at every moment in oceans of glorious creativity from within and without. Only when we realize that, will the joy, the passion and the liberation of spiritual life be ours without competition, without rivalry and without war. It's the twenty- first century. We have exploded the forces of the atom and imploded the national boundaries that separated and protected us from each other. It's time that the uniters save us from the dividers; that transcendentalism shows us the way past militant sectarianism and myopic secularism. Peace.

Any feedback? Your comments are very welcome.


Rudy said...

Matt, I re-read this again tonight and I found it just as incredible as the first time I read it. Your examination of the phrase "MAKES COPIES of ITSELF" is beyond fascinating. Also your comparison of the evolutionists idea of the first occurrence of life with no parents compared with the virgin birth with only one parent is just jaw dropping powerful.

I have never read any writings such as yours that make the case as strongly for the spiritual plane of existence and yet your blog is tucked away in a hidden corner of the internet. If it was up to me, your blog would be required reading in every philosophy class taught in America.

If you ever decide to take all your blogs and publish a book, I will be first in line. I must tell you that I am very nervous I will go to your blogsite one day and find that all your wonderful writings will be gone and I have no way to capture them. One of these days, I am going to have to copy every one of them as I am fearful your ideas will got lost and overlooked in today's march towards scientism and evolution.

You have a powerful gift indeed. I pray that one day your writings will be more available and to your success.

God Bless You Matt,

SandyMcKean said...

I note that the previous comment ends with "God Bless". I find it interesting that folks who would explain away concepts such as those found in "The Selfish Gene" START with a religious belief. The same can be said of the scientists at the Discovery Institute and they now popular ID arguments (I don't have the facts, but I'd be willing to bet that NO scientist that works for the Discovery Institute is a non-believer).

More specifically you said that "One of the basic tenets (or, as Dawkins' calls them, 'memes') of evolutionary thinking is that things proceed from the simple to the complex." This is just NOT so. Dawkins says no such thing, and evolution by natural selection says no such thing. Yes, it's true that it is possible for things to evolve that way (as parts of biology here on earth have), but evolution toward ANYTHING, much less complexity is NOT a basic tenant of evolutionary thinking. It is likely to happen I suppose, but ONLY if the replicators involved statistically increased in numbers by being part of a more complex form, than replicators that were part of a more simple form. There is NO direction, or intent, or grand plan, or goal involved (any more than over time waves on a beach sort smaller rocks higher on the beach than larger rocks).

If you believe this tenant of evolution, as you call it, exists then you either didn't read all of "The Selfish Gene" or you read it without "listening".

Matt Chait said...


Please read my post ‘The G Word.’ Yes, as soon as anyone mentions the G word everyone is guilty as charged. But what am I guilty of? I also do not know what the Discovery Institute is.

You cannot pretend that the whole thrust of evolutionary thinking is not to find a way to explain the fantastic, coherent complexity of the modern life forms by postulating a simple beginning and the build up, random blind mutation by random blind mutation, of the complexity you see today. The problem is that there never was any ‘simple beginning.’ Any beginning of life had to involve metabolism, replication, transcription, translation, digestion, elimination, growth and a way of sensing the environment and responding in an adaptive way to it. NONE of that is in any way simple. Also, the path of going from simplicity to complexity, mutation by mutation. has never been described and never will be, because blind accidents with natural selection is not a process that could ever accomplish that level of complexity and coherence.

You also may be interested to know that I do not have a ‘belief’ in God. I also thought, for a time, that I had evolved beyond the silly superstitions of my ancestors and would now be able to march forward in the clear light of reason and science. But science does not explain the origin of anything, and it does not explain how we experience, initiate or desire anything. Biology is the study of the apparatus that life uses, not the study of life itself. I came to these ideas not because of a belief that was inculcated in me, but because of an EXPERIENCE that I had. That experience made it very clear to me that I am not my body, but I am that which experiences my body. That insight and many other related insights await you also, the moment that you are able to suspend your thought processes and not repeat these tired unexamined mantras that you learned in biology classes and from promoters like Dawkins and simply experience yourself as your self. Then you will find, among other things, that you are not a content but a context; that you are not from a physical world of proteins and nucleic acids, but you are from a spiritual world of will, desire, intelligence, love and experience.

I am sorry if you cannot hear these words because they sound too religious too you.

Good luck!

Matt Chait said...

Here are the very first words of Dawkins from his chapter 'The Replicators' in his book 'The Selfish Gene':

"In the beginning was simplicity. It is difficult enough explaining how even a simple universe began. I take it as agreed that it would be even harder to explain the sudden springing up, fully armed, of complex order-life, or a being capable of creating life. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is satisfying because it shows us a way in which simplicity could change into complexity, how unordered atoms could group themselves into ever more complex patterns until they ended up manufacturing people."

Have you ever noticed that you unmask religious people, real or imagined, with the same enthusiasm that Joe McCarthy unmasked Communists, real or imagined? You seem to be well qualified for an excellent post during the next inquisition.

SandyMcKean said...

I've tired to make a reponse. It is 550 characters long, but the system rejects it saying that my response must be no longer than 4096.

Matt Chait said...

I haven't heard anyone else make that complaint before, but please try again. Perhaps you could send two shorter ones; or as many as you like.

And in your response please answer the following: In your comment you wrote:
"It is likely to happen I suppose, but ONLY if the replicators involved statistically increased in numbers by being part of a more complex form, than replicators that were part of a more simple form."

This explains how natural selection could make the more complex replicators more numerous. But please explain how these more complex replicators got more complex in the first place; and how , through either natural selection or random mutation, they could get still more complex than they already are.

You seem to think that if I don't get it (evolutionary theory) it must be because I am blinded by religious prejudices. You don't entertain the possibility that I do get it; I just think it is stupid.

SandyMcKean said...

Part 1 of 2

This comment will have to be posted in 2 segments due to the limitation of this blog to comments no longer than 4096 characters. Note that this reply was written after first reply to me. It therefore does not address the comments you've made since then (you added 2 additional comments). My 2 part reply here should be read as the 4th post in this series of comments.


Matt, you sound like a threatened person; why you should feel threatened I find curious. You ask what you are guilty of. I didn't accuse you of anything, so I have no idea. My statement was that I find it interesting that so many, who find their answers in God instead of in evidence-based disciplines like science, seem to have been committed to their belief in God before they conduct an inquiry into the nature of reality. Note that I never indicated that you believed in God (altho the title of this blog would seem to make that a reasonable assumption). In fact, if you read my words carefully, I think you will find that I was referring to the person who posted the 1st comment in this comment section, not to you. But be all that as it may.....on to the discussion. (I will attempt to take on your issues one at a time.)

I'm not pretending anything. I merely refuted your claim that it is a tenant of evolutionary theory that (to use your words again) "...things proceed from the simple to the complex." This is not a tenant of evolutionary theory. OTOH, evolutionary theory can be used as one highly plausible way to explain the observation that over time there has been, in some life forms, a movement through time from the more simple to the more complex. The mistake you make is to imply that evolutionary theory holds movement from simple to complex as a goal of evolutionary theory. There is no preferred direction in evolutionary theory; however, if one notices evidence that there is a condition of movement from simple to complex (as you and I both seem to agree has occurred), then one can use evolutionary theory to explain how that might have occurred. Huge difference. As you acknowledge, complex life forms are a bit of a side show when one considers the entire biosphere (e.g., bacteria etc). Steven J Gould is probably the most famous person to say that.

Matt Chait said...

“Matt, you sound like a threatened person; why you should feel threatened I find curious.”

If I sound that way it’s probably because I feel that our whole society is threatened by this myopic, soul destroying materialist philosophy that you cling to.

I am not an academic but I have been around enough to know the code. “I find curious” and “I find it interesting” which you used in this comment and in the earlier one, are thinly veiled hostile attempts to undermine my position. In it I hear echoes of the House Unamerican Activities Committee saying, “Ms. Mckean, you say you are not a Communist, but I find it interesting that you were seen at a meeting of the Socialist Workers Party on the night of June 16th; or a Nazi interrogator saying, “You say you have no Jewish blood, but I find curious that a letter was found in your possession signed with the word “Shalom!” But that must be my paranoia. I am sure that butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth.

“My statement was that I find it interesting that so many, who find their answers in God instead of in evidence-based disciplines like science, seem to have been committed to their belief in
God before they conduct an inquiry into the nature of reality”

I have no problem with evidence based science. So please show me the evidence for pre-biotic evolution. Show me the evidence for mutations increasing the complexity of anything. Show me the evidence for accidental mutations changing the basic body plan of any living creature; and show me how that could happen beneficial mutation by beneficial mutation (If it was a deleterious mutation at any point that life form would be at a disadvantage and would disappear through natural selection). Show me the evidence for any replicator, simple or complex, that ever existed, and tell me when this evolution from replicator to single celled creature took place. (Certainly not on this planet. Bacteria appeared here en masse almost four billion years ago at the same time temperatures at the surface dropped below the boiling point of water.) If you are saying that there is evidence that there are such things as mutations and that occasionally those mutations allow an organism to produce enzymes that will protect it from invasions, fine. But to say that whole body structures are changed by random, blind mutations is an absolute fantasy. Not because of, but in spite of, geological, historical, astronomical and logical evidence to the contrary, Darwinian evolutionists keep concocting these tortured scenarios of how life, will and intelligence emerged, by themselves, from inanimate matter. Why? Because they are as committed to their atheism as the most rabid fundamentalist is committed to his limited notion of God. Please read my post EVOLUTION.

“This is not a tenant of evolutionary theory.”

I never said it was. In fact I’ve never know evolutionary theory to be anyone’s landlord. I said a tenet of evolutionary theory.


SandyMcKean said...

Part 2 of 2

(Note part 1 and 2 were originally writeen as all one post several days ago)

To address your concerns about a "beginning". Evolution does not attempt to answer that question. Maybe someday we will have an answer to that, but not now, not yet. There is nothing usual in science for this state of affairs to exist. For example, there was a time not so long ago that science had no idea how the sun could produce so much energy and still be shining. Science itself had proven that if the sun's energy were being produced by chemical energy or gravitational energy (the only 2 sources known at the time), the sun would have burned itself out long ago. Eventually, science discovered a heretofore unknown source of energy, nuclear energy, that explained what was previously unknown. I doubt you would consider it a logical criticism of science to say in 1830 that because chemistry could not explain how the sun was still burning that lack somehow proved that chemistry must be a false doctrine. Yes, you are right, we don't (yet) know how the first replicators got started, but we know a lot else (incidentally, Dawkins would be the first to say that we have no idea what the first replicators were -- and BTW, whatever they were, the entire process did not start with DNA because, as you point out, too many other support structures are required for DNA to reproduce -- those support structures must have come after the first replicators started replicating).

You say "because blind accidents with natural selection is not a process that could ever accomplish that level of complexity and coherence". How do you know this? Do you have some sort of proof of this, or does it just "seem that way" to you?

You make "an EXPERIENCE that I had" quite important to your world view. It might interest you to know that I too once (about 30 years ago) had what I suspect was a very similar experience to whatever yours was. For me, it was that my "I" disappeared (or rather my "I" seemed like an illusion), and I existed as what I can only describe as "The One". I was The One, and The One was me, and ALL was only The One: existing on a conscious plane of some undefinable sort that was timeless (incidentally no drugs were involved). My experience was profound as I'm sure yours was, but unlike you, I find that experience to be completely compatible with the concepts found in "The Selfish Gene".

Finally, I want you to know that I do not consider evolutionary theory, and other elements of my world view (most of which I've studied and contemplated with much effort for a very long time), to be "tired unexamined mantras". And even if they were mantras, which I don't think they are, but even if they were mantras, I am dumbfounded that you hold yourself up somehow to know, over the internet, that I have not examined them.

Matt Chait said...

This reply will also be in two parts because of the 4,096 character rule.
Part I


“To address your concerns about a "beginning". Evolution does not attempt to answer that question.”

I don’t know what version of The Selfish Gene you read but in mine the chapter called ‘The Replicators’ which was the bases for this blog post that you are commenting on, begins with the words, “In the beginning there was simplicity.” Dawkins then continues on to explain how life began. He admits that this may not have been precisely the way it began, but whatever way it was, he is absolutely sure that it was pretty similar to his scenario. Isn’t that the whole point? To concoct a scenario that purports to explain how life could begin from inanimate materials, to organic materials to ‘simple’ living beings and then to ‘complex life, by itself, without the intercession of any intelligence or intelligent being? That may not be the intention of the theoretical replicators, themselves, but it is certainly the intention of the evolutionists that are concocting these theories.

“ I doubt you would consider it a logical criticism of science to say in 1830 that because chemistry could not explain how the sun was still burning that lack somehow proved that chemistry must be a false doctrine.”

For almost one hundred years prior to 1778, according to phlogiston chemistry, which was the accepted scientific way of viewing these things at the time, the sun was burning because it was releasing ‘phlogiston,’ the supposed matter and principle of fire. Antoine Lavoisier proved that fire didn’t release anything, that it was actually taking oxygen from the atmosphere. So do I believe in chemistry? Sure. Do I believe in phlogiston chemistry? Of course not. Do I believe in biology? Sure. Do I believe in evolutionary biology and its fanciful assumptions about the origin of life and the origin of species (as opposed to variations within species)? Of course not.

Matt Chait said...

Okay, this is part II:

“Eventually, science discovered a heretofore unknown source of energy, nuclear energy, that explained what was previously unknown.”

Yes, there is an energy in biology that has not yet been discovered; at least not by evolutionary biologists. Imagine that you were a scientist coming from another planet. In observing all the material that you found on this planet, you were able to divide these objects into three categories. The first was inanimate objects. The second was living bodies. And the third were artifacts made by humans, but also by other animals (beavers’ dams, birds’ nests, bees’ hives, etc.) With the first category, inanimate objects, you discovered that they functioned exactly as you would expect objects to function knowing what you knew about the fundamental laws of physics: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force and the weak force. But in the second and third category of objects you discovered that while they functioned within the four laws of physics, they were not formed simply by those four laws. In each case there was another force, another energy, that overcame those four forces. In the case of artifacts, that extra energy is desire. No artifact was ever built without some one or some animal ‘wanting’ it to be built. Beings do two things that inanimate objects do not. They experience things and they desire things. That desire created the energy which that being marshaled to overcome the four forces of physics and create the artifact that was standing before you. The creation of living bodies, like the creation of artifacts, depends on an energy to overcome the four forces of physics. This energy is also a desire, but it is usually called will. We can call this energy God’s will, or if you find that word repellent, we can say the universal will or life force or the cosmic consciousness’ will, or the will of Allah, or Jehovah or the Tao or whatever you like.

The point is that consciousness, will and intelligence are not accidental offshoots of a material evolution. Life and the entire material world are the result of consciousness, will and intention. The materialist evolutionists have it exactly backwards.

“I was The One, and The One was me, and ALL was only The One: existing on a conscious plane of some undefinable sort that was timeless (incidentally no drugs were involved). My experience was profound as I'm sure yours was, but unlike you, I find that experience to be completely compatible with the concepts found in "The Selfish Gene".”

Thank you for sharing that experience with me. The only way, though, that that can be compatible with Dawkins’ concepts is if you accept the modern schizophrenia of the material world vs. the spiritual world. There is spirit and oneness and then there is this other material world of separation. But the point is that the world of separation comes out of the world of oneness; and the instrument for that separation is will. Before there were life forms with their specific and limited intelligence, consciousness and desires, there was life formless with its unlimited intelligence, consciousness and will. This Oneness, beyond time and space, this unlimited consciousness, will and intelligence, which we both have caught a glimpse of, is what spiritualists (not necessarily fundamentalists, but truly evolved spiritual people) call God.


SandyMcKean said...

You neglected to answer my previous question I will reproduce here:

You say "because blind accidents with natural selection is not a process that could ever accomplish that level of complexity and coherence". How do you know this? Do you have some sort of proof of this, or does it just "seem that way" to you?

One other point. You say: "Dawkins then continues on to explain how life began." He most certainly does not. Every reputable scientist admits that no one has any idea how the first replicator formed in an early earth environment that contained only atoms and molecules -- that might form into somewhat more complex arrangements via pure chance (e.g., say the combination of 1 carbon atom plus 4 hydrogen atoms to form the simple molecule methane) -- but have absolutely no ability to replicate exact (or even inexact) copies of themselves. How that first replicator formed remains an unknown in science, and no scientist worth his/her salt would claim otherwise.....and specifically Dawkins does not. Indeed how the first replicator formed may never be known. Dawkins at best describes some possible developments and chemical reactions that may have been involved, but he is clear that these possibilities are pure speculation on his part.

Matt Chait said...

I am happy to address both your points, but I do have to say that while I will answer all your objections I asked you for evidence of six different neo-Darwinist claims and no evidence is forthcoming from your end.

Your first question about blind accidents and natural selection being incapable of creating life at the complexity and coherence that we observe today, is a huge question that I cannot answer adequately in this format. I will answer it, hopefully to your complete satisfaction, in a post that will be called either MUTATIONS or BEHE WATCH. I promise you that within the next month. Please read it and let me know what you think.

Regarding your second point, I said that Dawkins claims to tell us how life began. Then you say, “How that first replicator formed may never be known.” Excuse me! What replicator? Do you see the materialist leap and assumption you make? I am talking about the origin of life and you are talking about the origin of the first replicator. Who said there was a replicator? What is a replicator anyway? Has anyone ever seen one? And please don’t say DNA. DNA replicates, but only in conjunction with a whole cell’s replication. It merely responds automatically to electrical and chemical signals received from the cell. It does not replicate by itself. It does not have a self. I don’t think you appreciate what a colossal, and I might add, absurd, assumption it is to assume that in a universe that Dawkins and I assume you, postulate had no consciousness, no purpose and no intelligence, where all that existed were atoms and molecules randomly colliding with each other; where every event was completely a reaction to a previous event, predictable by determined laws of physics and chemistry, that suddenly a molecule will begin to replicate BY ITSELF! And not only will it replicate its material, but it will replicate in its progeny the same determination to replicate that continues to this day. Sandy, we don’t metabolize by ourselves. We don’t grow by ourselves. Genes don’t replicate by themselves. It is all done for us. How in the world can you assume that the first initiated action in the entire universe is that a molecule replicates itself? Does a molecule have a self? Of course not. Replication is an act that is done by overcoming the four forces of physics. It is an act that uses energy. If the energy to accomplish replication cannot be explained by gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong force or the weak force, it can only be explained by will. Some life forms may have sex, but no life form replicates. They are replicated. Just like we may bring food into our mouths but from there on it is our good fortune to be blessed with the equipment that digests it; so all life forms are blessed by the equipment that allows us to replicate.

And where could that long, long evolution that Dawkins’ details where organic material in tidepools, or wherever, just happened to accumulate into a replicator; and where replicators just happened to accumulate into a cell; where and when could that have taken place? The oldest life forms that we know of are hypothermophilic bacteria, that lived alongside deep sea thermal vents perhaps four billion years ago. These bacteria can exist in temperatures well above the boiling point of water because of the extra bonding of their protein molecules. How do you suggest such a bacteria could ‘accumulate’ in an environment where each of its individual molecular parts would break down faster than you could boil an egg?

Please think about it Sandy. I know Dawkins is very eloquent, but he really makes no sense.

SandyMcKean said...

I will respond to your last post with 3 separate posts limiting each post to just one subject.

For my post #1, you say:

"I asked you for evidence of six different neo-Darwinist claims and no evidence is forthcoming from your end.......Please read my post EVOLUTION"

I don't see 6 claims in your comments posts here. Perhaps you mean in the "Evolution" blog post you mention, but I can't find a blog post entitled "Evolution" (it appears your index menu on the left of your home page is out of date). In your comments here I can glean 4 claims ("pre-biotic evolution", "mutations increasing the complexity", "accidental mutations changing the basic body plan", and "any replicator.....tell me when this evolution from replicator to single celled creature took place"). I could address each of these issues, but I'd essentially have to write much of what the books Dawkins and many other biologists have already written. Clearly that would not be productive. My comments here are not meant to argue the ENTIRE case for evolution, I am just responding with my comments to words that YOU say HERE on this blog and in these comments.

However, in brief, to at least respond in a minimal fashion to these 4 issues you raise, I will say that whatever molecule first catalyzed its own reproduction WITHOUT the need of any supporting systems, would not be considered a biological molecule. It would likely be an organic molecule (just as methane gas is), and be very simple. BTW, a molecule has no "intent" to replicate as you seem to imply in some of your writings, the replication would just be a mindless chemical reaction as so many are even today -- especially when a catalyst is involved (such as the nitration of benzene in the presence of concentrated sulphuric acid). Once a replicator exists (again Dawkins and no other reputable scientist claims to know what the first replicator was or how it worked -- altho it is a safe assumption that the molecule and the replication process was very simple), the rest of your issues are all explained by the process of that some random mutations in the replicator molecule are helpful and vastly increase the numbers of that of the replicator that has the mutation over competing replicators that do not have the mutation (note other mutations can be unhelpful and decrease the numbers of that version of the replicator. This selective advantage proceeds via the process of natural selection over incredibly long periods of time (billions of years).

Matt, I suggest that you don't give enough credit to the process of natural selection in your deliberations. So many folks who argue against evolution focus too heavily on the random process of mutations, and not nearly enough on how natural selection (Darwin's contribution) slowly but surely allows one mutation's benefits to build on the last mutation's benefits in a non-random fashion. (I used this analogy before, but in case you missed it, the process of natural selection is similar to how every wave crashing on a beach randomly moves the pebbles around, but with enough time smaller pebbles get sorted higher up on the beach via a selection process -- and the forces produced by gravity and water pressure, a purely random process would never "accidentally" sort all the pebbles in this fashion).

SandyMcKean said...

For my post #3, you say:

"I said that Dawkins claims to tell us how life began. Then you say, 'How that first replicator formed may never be known.' Excuse me! What replicator? Do you see the materialist leap and assumption you make?"

As I've said over and over again, NO ONE knows what this first replicator was, nor the many other more complex replicators were that followed the first one over 100s of millions of years. All we know is what the replicators look like today (primarily DNA and RNA) after a long, long process of evolution over billions of years. This is not so unusual. Surely man's use of the wheel has sophisticated uses today even tho we have no examples of the 1st wheel nor do we know what it was used for.

"What is a replicator anyway? Has anyone ever seen one? And please don’t say DNA. DNA replicates, but only in conjunction with a whole cell’s replication."

Look back at my one of my previous comments, I already stated that DNA and the systems that support its replication could never have sprung up fully made. They evolved. What we see today is the final product of the evolution that started with the first replicators. The first replicator molecule and all the in-between ones form that first one to today's DNA are lost to science -- they are "extinct" if you like. There are no examples of sabre toothed tigers even tho their descendents still exist today. You'd have to do a multi-billion year experiment including the formation of a brand new planet to create all of that in order to "see" one of these long extinct forms. Just because no older forms exist today doesn't mean they never the same way we have no examples of the 1st wheel today either, but we know there must have been one.

"....that suddenly a molecule will begin to replicate BY ITSELF! And not only will it replicate its material, but it will replicate in its progeny the same determination to replicate that continues to this day."

There is no determination. DNA just replicates with no more intent than water boils. The first replicators did no more and no less than DNA does today, they just replicated without the need for intent, just as iron doesn't need intent to rust.

"And where could that long, long evolution that Dawkins’ details where organic material in tidepools, or wherever, just happened to accumulate into a replicator; and where replicators just happened to accumulate into a cell; where and when could that have taken place?"

It all happened right here on earth over a very long period of time.....but you know that. It's possible, I suppose, that the initial primitive replicators came from space in some way.....just as all today's water molecules where deposited on earth by comets. The early earth has no, or very little, water.

Matt, I repeat, I don't think you are giving enough weight to the power of natural selection and how much can occur when you are talking BILLIONS of years. I know it all seems hard to imagine the world around us evolving without some "guidance" or other "life force", but that's just because we humans can't come close to imagining a million years much less a billion years. Don't you have the same sense of awe when you look at the Grand Canyon (a totally lifeless thing). We stand there in disbelief, but know at the same time that such a thing as the Grand Canyon is possible given enough time.

Matt Chait said...

To Whom It May Concern:

The list of posts on the left are the earlier posts. To get to the most recent ones just click SEARCH BLOG on the tool bar. Then you can work your way backward (I didn't set it up; that's the way it came). Thanks.

Matt Chait said...


I’m afraid this is getting tiresome. You are so inculcated in your beliefs that you cannot hear one thing I say.

“As I've said over and over again, NO ONE knows what this first replicator was, nor the many other more complex replicators were that followed the first one over 100s of millions of years. All we know is what the replicators look like today (primarily DNA and RNA) after a long, long process of evolution over billions of years.”

You don’t see that you are assuming that there were replicators; that replicators are at the center of your whole creation theory. You want to tell me that everyone agrees that they don’t know what kind of replicator it was, but they all agree that it was some kind of replicator. Why? What proof is there of that? As I have repeated to you, DNA and RNA cannot replicate outside of a cell; do not replicate except from signals received from a cell, and would not last for a minute without the protection of a cell. No one has seen an independently replicating molecule. No one has seen an organic molecule that could survive for these supposed billions of years through asteroid bombardments, volcanoes, boiling oceans, etc. which were all part of the hell hole that was early earth (If you want to get a sense of the delicacy of unprotected organic material, think raw eggs outside of their shells). Creating an imaginary replicator is a desperate attempt to avoid the obvious fact that life began with intelligence; with transcendent intelligence.

“ I repeat, I don't th ink you are giving enough weight to the power of natural selection and how much can occur when you are talking BILLIONS of years”

Again, this is the same drivel you repeat over and over. Natural selection does just that. It SELECTS. It does not create. It selects from choices that are already there. The only other path of change that you offer is accidental mutation, and you cannot create any new structure by swapping out an amino acid. A new creation requires a new plan, a new form, a new way of organizing and shaping and energizing proteins, not just a new amino acid. And again you repeat this nonsense of BILLIONS of years. I told you; this is a fact; the remains of ABUNDANT bacterial communities have been found that are close to four billion years old; right up to the time when the surface of the planet cooled to the point that all the water wasn’t boiling off. There are absolutely NO traces, NO evidence of tide pools of organic materials, of any organic material deposits, what so ever. DNA based bacteria, of the same structure as modern bacteria were here in abundance almost four billion years ago. I don’t care how many times Dawkins says otherwise; I don’t care how mellifluous his voice is, how crisp his diction, how erudite his vocabulary. There is no such thing as a replicator and there was no such thing as an evolution of replicators.

“There is no determination. DNA just replicates with no more intent than water boils. The first replicators did no more and no less than DNA does today, they just replicated without the need for intent, just as iron doesn't need intent to rust.”

Again, you don’t get it. Replication is not like boiling water which is explainable in terms of basic laws of physics and chemistry. Replication requires the use of extra energy, of borrowed energy, to overcome the laws of physics and chemistry. That overcoming and focus of energy requires intent.

“ Don't you have the same sense of awe when you look at the Grand Canyon (a totally lifeless thing). We stand there in disbelief, but know at the same time that such a thing as the Grand Canyon is possible given enough time.”

Over millions of years the Grand Canyon changed from a fairly shallow canyon into a canyon one mile deep. It didn’t change from a shallow canyon into a hippopotamus.

P.S. Just click Blog Search on the tool bar and you’ll get to my more recent blog posts.

Matt Chait said...

“BTW, a molecule has no "intent" to replicate as you seem to imply in some of your writings, the replication would just be a mindless chemical reaction as so many are even today.”

You misunderstand me. The high and low frequencies in computer code have no intent to send a message; the letters of the alphabet have no intent to write a novel; and the gasoline in my car does not care if I get to my destination or not. These pieces of matter are organized by a being, me, that uses them to send a message, write a novel and get to my destination. The entire material universe including the imaginary universe of Santa Claus, tooth fairies and replicators, are created by beings for the purpose of providing an experience for beings. Matter and energy are the medium through which intentions are expressed, but they are never the origin nor the ultimate purpose of intentions.

“the process of natural selection is similar to how every wave crashing on a beach randomly moves the pebbles around, but with enough time smaller pebbles get sorted higher up on the beach via a selection process -- and the forces produced by gravity and water pressure, a purely random process would never "accidentally" sort all the pebbles in this fashion).”

If you were on a strange planet and stumbled across this beach, you could probably figure out, if you knew enough physics, why the pebbles were arranged as they were. But if you stumbled upon not stone pebbles, but a stone axe on that same beach, you would probably have a biological accident in your space suit. The level of organization of that axe would undoubtedly tell you that some intelligent being had been there who constructed that axe. So why, if you stumble across a sand crab here on earth, whose construction and organization is infinitely more complex than an axe’s, would you not suspect that it had to be the result of a gargantuan intelligence?


Matt Chait said...

My bad! The comments on the blog are out of order. The only way I know to rectify it is to put it all on a new post. The post is called Sandy and Me. Thanks.