I find it necessary to give the reader a background into what informs my views on Evolutionary theory to avoid being misunderstood. To that extent, I am going far beyond the subject of this present article to help the reader situate my thinking on Evolution in a wider context. The reader may disagree with me but it is important that he/she does not misunderstand me.
I agree with those who say Evolution is a fact. I agree also with those who point to the role of Natural Selection in Evolution. My grouse is with that technical detail of the neo-Darwinian synthesis that insists on Evolution by random mutations.
Are evolutionary mutations random?(The interested reader may follow this link to read a specialist article questioning the assumption of random mutations: Are mutations truly random?)
My proposal is simple: DNA is a molecular computer nanomachine running on some sort of state-space intelligence algorithm. To think of DNA as incorporating some form of intelligence program is not "mystical," as some may think. Software engineers in the twenty first century know enough about artificial intelligence programming to dispel any air of mystical mystery surrounding the notion of "Intelligent Design" in Nature. The single barrier towards scrutinizing the DNA code with the insights we have gained so far in artificial intelligence programming is the strong philosophical prejudice in scientific circles to the concept of Intelligence in Nature. It may take a long time for science to overcome its prejudice, but I predict that sooner or later molecular biologists in collaboration with software engineers and experts in language structures will begin elucidating the patterns of symbolic logic in the DNA code.
The details of evidence for intelligence programming in the DNA code is, however, a subject I will address in future articles.
(Too often people who have played "artificial life games" on computers come out with the mistaken impression that these games show that random mutations (and natural selection) can explain evolution in nature. Most do not appreciate that computer "life games" are implemented with well define state space definitions and that the impression that the "mutations" in the game are random is a false impression the gaming environment imposes. But this is also a subject for a future blog.)Gene-centered v. Organism-centered view of Evolution
I shall be contrasting the bottom-up theoretic approach that informed Dawkins' Gene-centered view of Evolution (The "Selfish Gene Theory") and an alternative top-down synthetic theoretic approach which derives inspiration from looking at the genetic code as some form of intelligence programming.
By way of analogy, if I were to initiate a discussion on the origin and evolution of the automobile, an analytical bottom-up theoretic approach will predispose me (as it did Dawkins) to thinking of the evolution of an automobile system as having originated in the independent goals of mass production replication of bolts, nuts, copper wires, glass, rubber, leather, plastic, metal parts and fittings; all having somehow pooled resources to build kick-starters, piston and cylinder components, crankshafts, rack and pinion steering wheels, which all somehow, independent of a goal orientation, aggregated into the first automobile; the automobile being an incidental sub-goal in the primary overall goal of promoting the mass production and marketing of bolts, nuts, copper-wires, glass, rubber, leather, plastic, metal parts and fittings("selfish gene" theorists literally think of the evolution of biological systems in this way).
An alternative approach is the synthetic approach which begins, as in modular programming procedure, with an "overall theory of the automobile" and situates bolts, nuts, copper-wires...kick-starters, pistons and cylinders in the context of the overall automobile system as incidental subunits which derive their significance only in the context of the overall order in which they participate and can therefore only be ascribed goals significance in the overall goal orientation that the automobile system represents(i.e. one does not deny that component production is goal oriented but simply that the goals are ultimately subroutines in the overall goal).
The synthetic approach to Evolutionary thinking perceives genes, primarily, as components which go into building systems--the genome. A "population" of animals is not just a "gene pool" (in the loose definition) but an association of genes in a definite synthetic order: the male social order impacts on the access of individuals to scarce resources and mating opportunities; from a synthetic perspective of evolution, sex, sexual reproduction and death (and mutations too) constitute the mechanisms of the social order of genes that impose a top-down constraint on the "selfish" self-replication goals of genes (because the significance of genes is defined in the context of the overall synthetic order into which they incorporate as components). In the top-down synthetic approach, the primary goal of the overall "gene pool" order simply could not consist in the mere replication of genes but in the replication of genes as sub-goal routines in the overall goal of the synthetic process, else the order simply collapses as a biological system does at the assault of a virus or cancerous cell.
A synthetic theoretic approach to evolution, therefore, predicts that we will find in the mechanisms of the social order elaborate means for containment of the "selfish" instincts of the self-replicating gene and regulation of its expression as sub-routine in the overall goal orientation of the synthetic order.
If, however, for reasons of one's philosophical orientation, one staunchly rejects the notion of goal orientation ("teleology") in biological systems evolution (as Dawkins did) one is constrained to thinking of biological evolution as powered by the "selfish" motive of genes to replicate themselves (as one may also choose to think of car design evolution in terms of the components fabricator's motive to mass produce bolts and nuts as though that were an end in itself!). But the irony in this view is that we know that no highly organized system tolerates "selfish" components whose goal of self-replication overrides the systems goals (note the destructive impact of viruses and cancerous cells in living organisms).
One of the reasons why evolutionary biologists insist that the "selfish" gene goal of self-replication is the primary motivating force in evolution is the observation that genes outlive the individual organic body. But this fact presents no problem from the synthetic perspective. Should we interpret the fact that a car manufacturer recycles components as a matter of policy to mean that his primary goal is to pass nuts and bolts to the next generation of cars? Certainly not! His primary goal is to build cars, good cars, but there are good economic reasons for recycling nuts and bolts (obsolete components will have to be replaced with the latest models just as genes may be replaced in the next generation by superior brand new mutant variants).