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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Evolution is the unifying foundation of life

 COMMENTARY: GEORGE TEMPLETON    

Evolutionary

John Dewey wrote, “Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril, and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.”  He felt that past doctrines always require some reconstruction because of cultural, technical, and political evolution.  For him, the scientific method, and democracy in politics, education, and journalism embodied a single ethical ultimate ideal for humanity.  

Education was a balance between content knowledge and experiences that would help man to understand his relationship to facts and truths, thus acquiring the tools needed to become the informed citizenry that would drive social evolution.


Dewey’s views are an anathema to anti-evolution creationists who on a recent radio program demonized him as nothing short of the anti-Christ.  There was no way that his attack on certainty could be divorced from their emotional reality.  It is as Georgia’s Republican representative Paul Broun, who sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology committee said:   Evolution, embryology, and Big Bang cosmology are lies from the pit of hell.


The Genesis story about eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge suggests that people are innocent and virtuous when they are unsophisticated.  Knowledge introduces temptations and opportunities that lead to sin.  Ecclesiastes 1:18 says, “For in much wisdom is much grief and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.”


Is ignorance really strength?


Twilight Zone

Mathematics is more than numbers.  It is a language and a refinement of everyday thinking.  It cannot prove every truth.  Certainty is subordinate to truth.  Uncertainty is not always a consequence of ignorance.  It was Lord Kelvin who maintained that measurement and quantification were the first steps to understanding, but quantification does not capture reality as much as it creates it.  Certainty seems to be an artifact of human psychology instead of an attribute of our world.  Uncertainty is the friend of curiosity and discovery.


More than fifty years ago an aging mathematics professor emeritus explained to his beginning class that they could enter the twilight zone at any time.  You didn’t need a doctorate.  Wonder and mystery existed everywhere if we would only open our eyes to see.


Simulation

Computer games are evolutionary.


A student can write a computer subroutine about half an inch long to quickly solve problems that would otherwise require years of science and classical math study.  The method is listed below to show that it is simple and obviously true.


1.  Regeneration:  Where you are at depends on where you have been.

2. Continuity:  What comes in must go out or it will pile up.

3. Temporality:  The fastest wins the race and comes first.

4.  Linearity:  Make long journeys with a large number of small steps, each resulting in miniscule changes.

5.  Evolution:  Obey nature’s simple laws.  They define the rules but not the complex outcomes that evolve.


Scientific

Science is not about making an informed decision based on evidence that fits in with your beliefs.  Life is a dynamic pattern of organization and patterns are what math is all about.  Our lives are about bringing the world outside into harmony with our gut feel.  Science is about changing our gut feel to harmonize with the world outside.


Efforts to discredit Darwin’s theory fail to understand that evolution does not claim that life arises purely by chance.  Intelligence and creativity are built into the fabric of the cosmos and did not follow the creation of mankind.  In nothing more than chance we find structure.  In contrast, our efforts to make life more predictable and explainable lead us to see patterns where none exist.  Uncertainty and ambiguity are universal and imply a feared lack of control, but they are also the fuel of wonder, freedom, and creativity.   We can’t avoid uncertainty.  We must learn how to live with it.


Probably

Ivars Peterson’s book The Jungles of Randomness describes how we see a lack of intent in anything irregular and disordered, but patterns exist when we are not aware of them.  When we see no clear relationship between cause and effect, we assume that some element of randomness must be present. However, we must distinguish between a random process and the results of that process.


Walter Bagehot, the nineteenth century Social Darwinist, journalist, and banker, ignored the debauchery of gambling when he claimed “Life is a school of probability.”  Risks versus rewards are the realities of investment.  Uncertainty is the price of being alive.


We think of randomness as having no pattern, but that is not true.  Pure chance can lead to highly ordered results, and a completely specified deterministic process can lead to unpredictability.  When we have only results we cannot know their cause.  A random coin can come up heads ten times in a row even though that is unlikely.  

Computer programs can create lists of random numbers that come from a completely determined program.  What seems random can be intelligent design, and what seems to be the act of a creator can be pure chance subject to an unknown and unseen probability distribution such as the bell curve that teachers grade by.


Statistical probability that uses sampling techniques, such as in voter polls, has  to provide the  same results as common sense probability, the kind that comes from counting the number of ways an event can or fails to happen, but it does so  only when we roll the dice an infinite number of  times.  Infinity is important, and thought to be the realm of God, because only it guarantees the stable long-term behavior of nature’s laws.  It was Georg Cantor, the developer of modern set theory, who proved that some infinities are larger than others!  His mathematical correspondence would later be used in proofs about the limits of human knowledge.


Data and Law 

There is a young child’s toy consisting of successively smaller concentric disks mounted on a rod so that a conical pyramid is formed.  Hindus give us two more empty rods and a total of sixty-four discs.  They explain that the world will end when we finish transferring the disks to another needle, provided that we move only one disk at a time and we never allow a smaller disk beneath a larger one.  Examination quickly shows that each transfer requires twice as many moves as the previous.  If we try to describe the step by step movements we are met by increasing complexity and incomprehensible huge numbers.  Two to the sixty fourth power minus one moves are required.  If we made non-stop movements every second it would take fifty-eight thousand billion years, more than ten thousand times the  estimated age of the  earth, to accomplish the task.


A simple structure subject to a few rules can generate huge amounts of confusing data.  Data cannot be trusted apart from context.  However, science is called upon to infer context given only data. 


Omega

Kurt Gödel’s “Incompleteness Theorem” showed that math could not prove all truths. Alan Turing’s computer “Halting Problem” proved that certainty is not computable.  They laid the foundation for Gregory Chaitin’s extension of what computers can’t do to what man can’t know.   


Complexity, an argument for intelligent design, is difficult to quantify.  If we can find the underlying laws, complexity goes away.  Scientists use computer programs to draw a curve through the data points trying to find a simplifying relationship.  If this can be done, the data is not random and a computer can always find the original law, the conical pyramid and its rules.  Math can always draw a complex curve that goes exactly through the data points but if the explanation is as complex as the data there is no simplification.  Then the data is random by definition.  Without simplification, no theory explaining the data exists.


Gregory Chaitin generalized the Halting Problem to all possible computer programs.  He calculated a precisely defined but unknowable number called “Omega”.  In so doing, he proved that pure randomness is an intrinsic part of mathematics.  No mathematics will ever be able to grasp ultimate reality.      


Chaotic

A butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing in March makes the August Atlantic hurricane season completely different.  Everything is complex, intimately connected, surprising sensitive to, but ultimately independent of beginning conditions.  Order, not chaos, is the foundation of everything.


The math of chaos begins with simple equations expressing underlying laws, like those used by our student.  As the simulation begins, its behavior is certain, but then accumulated tolerances drive it into wildly unpredictable patterns.  More information will not make the uncertainty disappear.  It is not a matter of our inability to know the present in all its determining details.


In nature, chaos is the rule.  Order is the exception.  Uncertainty, felt to be incompatible with the Almighty, evolves out of certainty even though the emerging patterns express an extreme order, as in snowflakes, instead of an expected random structure.


Entropy

Time is a consequence of change giving birth to causality.  As the arrow of time irreversibly moves from past to the future, organization decays into disorder and formlessness.


Entropy comes from the laws of thermal physics.  It is demonstrated by a drop of ink in a glass of water that diffuses and spreads throughout, and never reorganizes into the beginning droplet.  The large number of molecules in the glass causes a gradual spreading of the ink instead of the unseen erratic motion of individual particles.  The certainty of entropy comes entirely from the fact that it deals with immense numbers.  Although entropy wins in the long run, structure arises at the expense of chaotic increase elsewhere.  Locally, the universe has a built-in tendency to order.  However, order is subjective, not objective.  It requires an observer.


Degeneration

We proudly think of evolution as ascendency instead of adaptation.  Man in the future will be a far more perfect creature.  Could God use evolution as his method for creation?


Drummond, in his 1891 work, Natural Law in the Spiritual World, argued that deterioration is the law of nature.  He saw a cycle of youth, maturity, aging, and final decrepitude.  Death is nature’s natural state.  A universal force leads us to incivility, imbecility, and madness.  We are like the man who falls from a fifth floor balcony.  The same force that caused him to fall the first foot will surely make him fall the remaining fifty feet.


Drummond may not have realized that nothing in Darwin’s theory is clearly directional describing an upward force toward improvement.


Evolution

Our mind and substance are different perspectives on a single unified mysterious reality.  William Byers’s book, The Blind Spot, explains it.  We are unavoidably both participants and observers, both subjective and objective, unavoidably implicated in a river of continual evolving flow, changing the course of history while being part of it.
 
Knowledge does not come into being fully formed.  Creative solutions have always been step by step.  Ideas replicate, mutate, and evolve.  They don’t just proliferate and survive or die in disputation. They change qualities creating new paradigms.  

Explanations take time and resources.  They always reveal new questions requiring further explanation.  In this respect, evolution is an emergent property, like Chaos, depending on many facts, math, and all the sciences.  It is not constrained to biology, but rather can be recognized as the unifying foundation of life, thought, complexity, and ultimate reality.

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