Endless Darwinism, Most Flexible

Endless Darwinism, Most Flexible;
A non-Darwinian philosopher’s review of “Endless Forms, Most Beautiful,” by Sean B. Carroll.
by Liam Scheff

published by W.W. Norton and Co. 2006
Amazon link.

Dr. Carroll likes his rock and roll, and he’ll give you an unwanted lyric from time to time, to let you know that he’s cool, as well as really smaht. The under-title of the book, and its constant refrain throughout – the rhyming, new-wave rock-sounding “Evo Devo,” gives the biggest hint as to what’s wrong with this ‘new’ science.

The clever, cloying catch-phrase will now be employed by undergraduates, and Ph.D. candidates everywhere, to describe a myriad of processes that they don’t understand. (They’ll just sound cute and clever saying it). Carroll throws it around blithely, to cover a variety of sins.

The trouble with the book isn’t what Dr. Carroll gets right. Indeed, things develop! There are patterns to that development. Those mechanical patterns can sometimes be elucidated, even described, even tinkered with to produce horrible, horrible animals (that researchers should be remorseful for causing to suffer, but don’t seem to care much at all).

The reductionists have named genes, described some intermediary functions, given clever, populist names to their ideas: Hox genes! Toolbox genes! Do they control the birth and regulation of the entire organism? Are the great mysteries solved at last!?

Yes! Or, well, no, goes the answer. It’s just another step on that ‘right track,’ we’re told, with firm self-assurance. Indeed, the research is interesting and daring, and he should be praised for his courage in (perhaps unintentionally) undermining the Darwinian world-view. How fast is change? How quick evolution?

Fast. Quick. As needed. (As needed? To that in a moment).

When Dr. Carroll sticks to the short descriptions of laboratory process, the book is most interesting. His ‘science by analogy’ was less so – and even more dubious in content. Dr. Carroll takes a leap into an empty water glass by proposing that much of DNA should be seen as “Dark Matter,” something Dr. Carroll admits he knows little about – something which competitive research in plasma physics will tell you simply does not exist: “dark matter,” that invisible, untestable non-substance is a fashionable but empty pseudo-explanation for another failing post-Enlightenment theory – the Big Bang.

But back to the genome. We’re given a short tour, which is both a little dense, and a little under-served in true technical description. We’re all too quickly pawned off with those glib shortcuts, genes are “turned on and turned off,” and “selected for or against.” By the end of the book, we’re brought back to the 19th Century, and reminded of the value of Darwinian “fitness.” “Selection and fitness!” What do they mean? How does it really work? (You just have to believe it does, or you can’t go along for the rest of the tour).

But for all the complexity on exhibit in the work, we learn what we might have learned by opening our eyes in a field of wild grass and little creatures: Life emerges from a vital, unified, endlessly-renewing matrix; living things are reflections and refractions of each other. They mimic and recapitulate form ever and always in subtle or wild new arrangements.

Dr. Carroll gives us his specialty’s machinist point of view of their great discovery: A repeated signal or segment of chromosome can give rise to related parts across species. That is, one gene from fly to mouse seems to activate the creation of parts that have similar functions – the ‘toolkit gene‘ for your rump, for example is a hind-quarter in whatever other animal that gene appears in. A gene that seems to give permission for an eye to develop in a fly or small insect, also seems to give the same permission in a mouse.

But Carroll and his supporters will tell you that these genes ‘control’ the development, or ’cause’ it. All they do, however, is give permission for a process to arise. But more on that in a moment.

There are two concepts in evidence here that will trouble the Darwinian mind to no end; two themes that jump up and out over and over again in the work. The first is the ever-present ghost of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, the French biologist who determined a theory of evolution before Charles Darwin, which stated that living creatures adapt to their environments willfullyby force of activity and desire. That is, by the application of energy to use of their body, that over time, and increasing in progeny, new structures would be formed.

Neo-Darwinism has made any kind of active feedback loop informing the morphology of the next generation strictly verboten. Their theory clings like a nervous boy in a sea of hot-blooded women to it’s virgin idealization of that fortuitous, prescient “chance accident,” which allows all of life to magically produce that just-so variation which colors its tail red and makes its beak into a snout, just ahead of the need for it. How very lucky is Darwin’s evolution!

But all common sense, and all practical application cries out for an active feed-back loop, a refinement of Lamarck. And here in these conserved genes, we have a potential receiving vessel: In Carroll’s observations of the separation, duplication and recapitulation of raw forms, remade again and again across lines and species, we have a soft, doughy template onto which structural changes could be projected. It just asks a feedback loop to be present, to alter, where alteration is desired. And those feedback mechanisms are banging down the door of Darwin’s house, and very soon, the charging work of the Epigeneticists will be living here, in Carroll’s work, if it is not already.

What Carroll makes apparent – again – is that evolution occurs most easily in the plastic state – it is fast, and it is supple, and it responds to the environment, and the environment to the organism. And Richard Dawkins should get some salt and gravy for his hat, because he’s going to be eating it soon, and for a long time…

The second concept arising from Carroll’s work is more radical still: The fractal and field nature of existence; increasing complexity through serial repetition; this is the avenue of the formation of individual beings, from masses of cells, sub-dividing into identical sub-sections, like flour and water and salt rolled into doughy balls, and lined up on a tray, not yet shaped or baked – but ready and waiting. This soft line of identical parts is a description of larva, of embryos of formative species, the earlier, smaller, more flexible versions of sentient beings.

These individual ‘buns in a row,’ then flow down Waddington’s “chreodes” – established pathways, like a depression tracing down a hillside, or a well-worn path – into ever increasingly stylized, augmented, stretched or squished, bleached or burnished, flexed or jointed parts; parts of all kinds, arising from identical, duplicated little bits of dough – of potential energy and form. Here we have an opening as wide and deep as the Valles Marineris for morphegenic field theory, in action.

What is a morphogenic field? It’s a concept – an idea – of a field which shapes development, an energizing form that exists above the small mechanics of four base pairs in DNA. Rupert Sheldrake proposed this field theory in his book, “A New Science of Life.” A morphic field is a shape which exists not only in three dimensional space – up, down, forward, back – but also in time – from ancestor to progeny, across endless generations. It is shared with all of the organisms of its kind, reinforcing their similar development. The energized field achieves the creation of patterns through morphic memory held in a field similar to an electro-magnetic, or gravitational field.

But Sheldrake could offer no specific biochemical technology through which this might be achieved. He admitted as much, to his credit. (If Darwinians would have as much humility, their version of evolution would still be a theory, indeed, and not a hardened ‘truth.’) But Sheldrake’s work gains direction from Dr. Mae-Wan Ho’s observations (in The Rainbow and the Worm) of the electrostatic nature of living tissue, which she describes as ‘polyphasic liquid crystal,’ built from collagen networks. That is, living tissue is a liquid crystalline structure, based in collagen matrices, which acts as a transmitter, receiver and storage place for sub-atomic energy – proton transfer across hydrogen bonds in water.

Could this be the domain of a charged field, which, electrically or atomically direct, perhaps in holographic memory, the fractal-like differentiation observed by Carroll, et al?

Well… maybe. It’s certainly fun to think about. But back to Dr. Carroll.

He tells us, with nice evidence, that embryos of all variety arise from nearly identical templates; they differentiate into their complex form through activation by shared collections of genetic material; they seem to ‘canalize’ into final forms almost by a kind of pre-determined magic, once in the right place, at the right time.

It’s neat stuff to know. But why is this revolutionary? It is certainly a turning of the wheel for the Darwinians; there can be no doubt about that. It demonstrates ably (though unconsciously) that most of the old established evolutionary ‘truths’ were mostly bunk. That is, they weren’t true – they were men grasping in the dark at ideas of how life could come into existence – and once in existence, could mutate or metamorphose into so many forms, so endless, most…you know.

The old idea was, well, ever-changing. But it had one solid idea at its core, and in its foundation: Life was a machine, and not a spiritual adventure; it was logical, and mechanical, and would be understood to be so, and all other points of view would be hanged.

How did evolutionary theory come to reside in this place?

The pioneers of today’s evolution, have themselves ‘evolved,’ changed and mutated over time, from theologically-inclined naturalists, to reactive brittle atheists. They are pressed against a wall, not of their creation, but of their inheritance. They are the children of René Descartes, and the hostile European determination that the Church would never influence the life of mankind – of Intellectuals – so cruelly and totally as it had, at times, in the Middle Ages.

And so, to cleanse themselves of that way of thinking, they erased the soul of the world. It needed to be a dead thing, machine-like, and without spirit or vital force – only pulleys, levers, cogs and wheels. Intellectuals wanted to dispense with Church authority-as-fact, and sought to find their own testable basis for reality. And they did – they left the spirit behind, and boy, did they. To the degree that the screaming in pain of tortured animals, to René Descartes (and his intellectual children) became nothing more than the squeaking of gears in a wooden machine.

And so life, devoid of vital force, or a transcendent penetrating universal spirit (or energy), was to be explained as such: “The world and all its creatures are machines; one cannot mention transcendent forces, or a Creator, or intelligent, organized, systematic creativity. No! It is all ‘blind chance.’ That is science!

And that is where we live. Or, that is where scientists live. The world continues to be a vitalistic, spirit-infused entity, which the mechanists struggle and fail to describe in their self-limiting vocabulary. And so science writers endlessly commit a series of gaffs when they write or speak about the actual world, always referring to nearly magical events that evade mechanistic description in passive and strained verb tenses, which beg the question: But WHO or WHAT made it happen?

There in the standard literature on evolution, you will discover a world of teleological intention: Limbs and organs “adapt themselves to,” “choose a new pathway,” “invent,” “are designed to,” “free themselves from;” living creatures “take advantage of,” “devise a new plan,” and “run riot with innovation.”

Does this sound like a dead, mechanical, mindless process? But so it goes, on and on, in every book, article and documentary on the topic. But who did the devising? Nature! Who’s that? Is it a she? No, just a set of laws. A set of laws devised and maintained by whom?

This is the place all Western science writers live and die. They’re still fighting an idea of an Medieval God (The Judeo-Christian Jahweh, and El – look up any reference on ‘father gods‘). This, an exterior force, all-knowing, all-controlling, who either started the entire project rolling, and walked away, or is watching, like Santa Claus, taking notes on good and bad behavior.

But this is a particular Western fascination – or illness, transmitted through wandering reductionists. Taoism certainly has no bias against examination of both the earthly and the metaphysical. The Tao is all, it manifests in infinite form, in endless and myriad opposition. Make a study of it! Hinduism is centered in greeting the purpose emanating into us, and our world, from and through a transcendent source. This in no way excludes mechanical science in their world view. Why should it in ours? Their gods are not separate entities who never mingle with the people; their creator God Brahma, dreams the world into existence, and in the dream, plays all the parts, and in playing the parts of you and me and everyone and thing we see and know, forgets that it’s a play, and takes it seriously…

But what does that have to do with this book?

The author, Carroll, struggles as all reductionist Darwinian synthesizers do with the “why” of things. In fact, they often are so confused themselves about why anything should exist at all, in a purposeless, dead, accidental, mechanical wind-up, winding-down universe (that of Darwin and Dawkins and Einstein – but not of Halton Arp), that every time they find a mechanism that better describes a process, they attribute the entire process to the little ‘switch’ they think they discovered.

It is interesting, indeed, that the current batch of evolutionary biologists are moving recklessly beyond Richard Dawkins and the Great and Holy Synthesis of Huxley and Mayr; it is wonderful that they are looking into the process that describes life as it is changing shape. What will remain a bane for all of them, though, is that they will always fail to find a prime movement. Nothing will ever stop leading them back, and back, and back – because whether they realize it or not, they are still trapped in that reactive Enlightenment worldview, desperate to disprove the existence of a certain idea of a creative universal transcendent force…

And yet remaining so unwilling to admit that it is not in the mechanists purview to either prove, or disprove it, nor should they try.

It’s neat stuff, watching the seeds develop into beings. You can describe the growing, to some degree, the “how,” but you can’t tell anyone WHY it bothers to happen. Except to say that it does…remarkably, in endless form, most infinite, indeed.

There is a mind at work in the universe, always and throughout. That the reductionists don’t want to see it, lets us know that Infinite Mind, which makes us and everything else from itself, has a remarkable sense of humor.

. . . . . .



    • Have you read Darwin’s book(s)? He was no great thinker. It’s so much horrifying sophistry, avoiding logical construction, taking the center of one’s argument as ‘granted,’ not needing any evidence to bolster it. It’s remarkably stupefying work. Hardly even charming, it’s offensive.

  1. Mathematics is stupid. Every word spoken is leverage as defined by humans. Respect of morality is non-negotiable. (get with it) I can tell you this whole heartedly as an atheist. Democracy is what was intended for us. Our government started a fight with you.

  2. When you consider that the human body simply takes stuff and turns it in to whatever it needs at any given moment, maybe instead of evolution, the Earth and pretty much everything in the universe does the same thing. It takes what it needs to make what it needs.

    And considering the age of the universe as we know it, we’ve been here for a moment.

  3. I appreciate the exploration of the topic. Let me bring my philosophy into focus.

    Darwinism claims to work by slight, successive alterations, which occur by accident. “Nature” “selects” these changes, which are given, but unintended, in the Darwinian model.

    Let’s lay that out.

    Darwinism purports to be a theory of Why and How things change (how animals speciate, and now, how complex molecular processes come into existence from much simpler processes, and often, from no process at all);

    All of this is painted with the notion of “accident.”

    Darwinism takes, for a free lunch, the action of change. Change, or “variation” is “NATURAL.” Darwinism offers no explanation for how the fundamental VARIATION which drives evolution, actually occurs, or why it occurs.

    It just does. They say it’s “accidental,” but is also intrinsic. They say both. Darwin said it was intrinsic. He offered no explanation. It’s just something “Nature” does.

    – So, what is “Nature?” –

    It is the super-natural driver of Darwinian evolution. It is not bound by any understanding. It is beyond mechanistic. It is their free lunch.

    If Darwinism is a science, and it proposes a theory of “how all life comes into being,” then it gets no free lunch.

    If it wants to propose a limited mechanism that “may describe” how some intra-species (slight) modifications are stabilized, through both breeding and death, then it could be a limited, but acceptable sub-theory.

    Instead, it proposed, though force, that it is the only theory. But it explains nothing – not how change occurs, or why, or why it gives rise to such remarkably complex structures. In fact, Darwinism derides that idea that nature is creative.

    It’s already taken that creativity for free, and then derides it as non-existent, and subservient to the Malthusian notion of ‘early death and too much screwing.’

    It’s not a subtle point, but I think it escapes many who view this argument.

    They take their major cause of change FOR FREE, they then deride it, and ask us to believe that the CAUSE of all change was in fact the Malthusian tag at the end of the line.

    “Change happens because of natural selection.”

    This is a logical and temporal inversion of events. Change happens. Everything else proceeds.

    Why does change happen?

    There’s your unanswerable question. What examining an idea of a transcendent design or intelligence can do, is to ask that question. The answer, or a logical answer, is to identify “Change” as a constant – as did Heraclitus and Anaxagoras, Buddha and Jesus, Newton and Bruno – and to then try to define the nature of that energy flow through the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, and the biosphere.

    That’s what science can do. It can’t tell us why there is change. It can only try to describe the multiple natures of change.

    “Survival of the fittest” is a disgusting, disgraceful bastardization of an tiny idea, based on a clench-eyed observation of SOME of the qualities of change in the world. SOME, not all, and not most.

    That is why Darwinism fails. It cannot predict a thing, because it is, at its heart, if it has one, or in its head, far too limited in scope to provide understanding of the actual nature of the universe.

    You gotta start over, and really define all the processes that we can observe, without prejudice or pre-formed paradigmatic view. Then we see “nature” and therefore “evolution” more complexly. And neither view troubles spirituality, which is above and beyond, though connected to, the natural world.

    Again, that’s philosophy, but it may be true. In many traditions, the invisible emerges into the visible, but loses its infinite nature in doing so. It emerges in hard and soft opposition, and in endless variety. That’s surely a brief description of “nature.” Is it not?

    What can be gained by a larger view? Everything. Life may be seen to proceed less mechanistically than we imagine it has to (our imagination of the world emerges from the 17th Century, where the wooden machine became the model of life itself, and the universe). Life, energy, information, all of it, may indeed be free from the “laws” that we impose through our thinking, and may operate non-locally. Worlds may be nodes in a galactic circuit, sharing information through processes we have never even thought to measure or detect. Maybe.

    Nobody knows. That’s really where we are. The genome is a clue that immense and irreducible complexity lives at the heart of this living matrix; if so, the future of evolutionary research points up, and out, not inward toward “fitness and survival.”

    That’s my opinion. Some of my philosophy. Cheers,


  4. Darwinism avoids the scientific approach of an algorithm. With an algorithm, you follow a set of instructions, or a recipe (i.e. Making chocolate cookies) and you get a result based on following the instructions.

    So in the case of chocolate cookies, if you add the right amount of flour and sugar, add the eggs, vanilla, chocolate chips, beat it all the way described in the instructions, put it in the over at a specific temperature for a specified period of time, you should have chocolate cookies at the end. And if you repeat this same recipe again and again, you should get the same result each time.

    Whereas with Darwin, you see the chocolate chip cookie but not the recipe. There is no recipe. How the chocolate chip cookie became a chocolate chip cookie and not some other cookie, is assumed to be a random accident and not by intent. There is no explanation for why this is the case, it is just assumed to be true. There is also no way to repeat or prove this, because there is no recipe. Thus it is not science. Science is meant to give complete answers, not guesswork. It is also a method for proving through a process that can be repeated over and over and generate the same result.

    Darwinism avoids all of this. So whereas we know what science is, how then can we accept Darwinism as being science when it avoids all that science is based upon?

    One reason is because scientists blur the lines between theory and fact. When a scientist says “we think this is true” or “we think this may be what is happening” we hear them say “This is a proven fact!” And I also think the scientist hears himself/herself saying the same thing.

    Einsteins “theory” of relativity was, after a few years, taken at face value as being completely true, even before much of it was proven. In fact, a great deal of it has never been proven, but this has not stopped most people from assuming it has been proven, nor from scientists really questioning it. In fact, to question it is considered basically heresy. Scientists act on the assumption that it is true, and therefore work their models based on other subjects around this theory. So is the theory being proven true, or are scientists making things conform to the theory?

    The same can be asked of Darwinism. Is it a theory that is yet unproven or a proven fact? Based on the way we hear it said, it is proven. But based on the fact that nothing has been proven, because the theory does not conform to any basic principles of science, such as repeatability, it is not only unproven, it cannot be proved. There is no recipe or algorithm.

    It reminds me of being told in grammar school that Christopher Columbus discovered America. And then the story goes that he met some natives. But the suggestion is that Columbus was the first to discover, yet here we have natives already existing there, so he obviously wasn’t first. But you are pretty much taught at the earliest age what to believe and not to question or probe deeper. To determine whether statements made hold up under scrutiny. And when scientists speak, we have grown accustomed, or even conditioned to accept what they say as being factual first, unless told otherwise. So if they say, “we’re pretty sure”, you can take it to the bank that it is true, unless they tell you later it is not true. But until they tell you it is not true, base everything you do on the presumption that what they first told you is a fact, even though they never said it was.

    That kind of reminds me of religion and dogma.

  5. Perfect!

    “We have this chocolate chip. It engages with the flour and sugar and becomes, due to some unknown heating or electrical process, a cookie. We know this because we have cookies. The process was opportunistic and chance-driven. We know all of this to be true, because there are chocolate chips. There are also peanut-butter and vanilla chips. They are probably genetically related. They are certainly phylogenetically related.”

    But kitchen scientist, where do the chocolate chips come from? Didn’t somebody have to make them?

    “What! No! They arose through natural processes! We know this because cookies, which chocolate chips live in, arose by natural processes! We’ve proven that already.”

    Veddy good.

  6. One part of the evolution of Homo Sapiens that bothers me is that there is still a “missing link”.

    We know we came from Gorillas because they are similar to chimpanzees which must be linked to something we have yet to discover, but we see that cro-magnon man is similar to us and kind of like gorillas and chimps, and cro-magnon which is similar to neanderthals which is similar to humans… Except we just haven’t quite found that missing link.

    Africa must have a lot of holes in it by now after all the digging and sifting, but where exactly is this missing link? Until you come up with it, no algorithm, no recipe, no link. It is just a theory.

    So if “we” needed to be able to manipulate stuff with our hands and stand up and walk around on two legs instead of on all fours, why didn’t the chimps, gorillas and anything else we are supposed to be related to and descended from, develop these same characteristics? Didn’t they need it as well? Wouldn’t they have been better off having it? And why aren’t they extinct if they didn’t adapt? Pretty sure there are still gorillas and chimps around somewhere.

    According to the theory, each succession of “man” killed off the earlier version by competing for resources, fighting and so on. So the assumption is murder was part of our genetics as was greed? No theory suggests we hunted earlier versions of man for food. Yet, if we were competing, which usually involves two parties, why didn’t the earlier versions of “us” develop competitive traits? Or did they? They just lost the race anyway?

    Did any of this happen to other species? Was there a bunch of earlier versions of the turtle that didn’t get a hardened shell? Did they lose to the newer versions?

    Based on what I understand about the “Out of Africa” theory, one version of us came about in Africa and then roamed outwards to Europe, Asia, wherever they could. Then a second version of us also came about in Africa, followed the previous version, wiped them out, and this process happened again and again with each subsequent version of us coming out of Africa, roaming out and wiping out the previous version of us? Or did each newer version come about all over, wherever the previous versions happened to be, all at the same time and all over the planet? If “we” evolved, and yet “we” are descended from “them”, then it would have to be that “they” evolved too. And if they evolved in to us, then we didn’t wipe them out, we are them.

    And now comes the choice. Did gorillas and chimps choose not to change? And if so, why are they still here if all the middle versions of “us” are gone? Seems if gorillas and chimps were the original versions of us, they should have been gone long ago. Am I missing something here? A link perhaps?

    Darwin seems to have as many holes as Africa.

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