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Evolution
 

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Humans have always tampered with nature to produce genetically altered life forms. The rose has been genetically manipulated for thousands of years and has come to symbolize a kind of perfection or ideal. Virtually every crop we eat has been "modified" from its original state over hundreds of years by farmers and scientists in search of desirable traits. Not one dog species alive today would exist without human intervention in breeding. But this has traditionally been a very slow process with plenty of time for nature to correct our bumbling. With the discovery of DNA, the direct manipulation of genetic material is now possible. This has become a topic of considerable controversy, and the implications are far-reaching.

Evolution and Science

Charles Darwin was an English naturalist renowned for his documentation of evolution, and for his theory of its operation, known as Darwinism. His evolutionary  theories, propounded chiefly in two works--On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)--have  had a profound influence on subsequent Science, and  Religion. In fact Darwin's work represents (or co-incides with) a major change in the world of human affairs, a paradigm shift.

"There have been three great periods of Darwinian thought -- the decades immediately following the 1859 publication of On the Origin of the Species, when Darwin's ideas first received wide currency; the 1930s, when the work of R. A. Fisher, Sewall Wright, and their colleagues ushered in the Modern Synthesis and the beginning of mathematical work in evolution; and the sixties and seventies, when William Hamilton, G. C. Williams, Lynn Margulis, and E. O. Wilson, among others, began working out how the Modern Synthesis could convincingly explain cooperation and even altruism for everything from bacteria to humans (a field of inquiry whose avatar is Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene). We are now entering a fourth such phase, characterized by two things: an unprecedented deepening and refining of evolutionary theory, as whole organisms -- especially humans -- have their genetic code unlocked; and the spread of  Darwin's ideas outside of biology proper to influence psychology, sociology, economics, philosophy, and law..."    -Clay Shirky
It was in 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA. The discovery was a profound, Nobel Prize-winning moment in the history of genetics, but it did not decipher the messages on the twisted, ladderlike strands within our cells. No one knew what the human genome sequence actually was. No one had cracked the code of life. Knowing the sequence of the human genome is but a single step in the process. To give an analogy, knowing the sequence of the human genome is like knowing all the words in a book written in a foreign language and not knowing where the sentences begin or end.

DNA is responsible for many of our characteristics and predispositions. The genes in our DNA can determine our eye color, hair color, make us more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, alcoholism, and many other traits. The eventual goal of sequencing the human genome is to determine what the genes in our DNA do and to find ways to use them to improve health or for commercial and industrial purposes.

The Human Genome Project is an international scientific effort to map all of the approximately 100,000 genes on the 23 human chromosomes and, eventually, to sequence the 3 billion DNA base pairs that make up these genes. Begun in 1990, the study's goal is to understand the basis of genetic diseases and to gain insight into human evolution. The task of sequencing the human genome is essentially complete.

The challenge now is to find out how cells actually use the information in our DNA. With this knowledge in hand, drugs can be designed to enhance the action of damaged proteins or inhibit the actions of bad proteins. It is anticipated that in the short term it will be possible to determine a person's susceptibility to a succumb to a number of inherited diseases, but not possible to provide any effective treatment. Perhaps within a decade or so medicine could make enormous strides in finding ways to cure and prevent diseases such as cancer.

Matt Ridley  wrote a book called, Genome : The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, (one chapter for each of our 23 genes). It re-evaluates much of what we had been thinking about genes. The field of genetics is expanding at such a rate that the text books are out of date and obsolete. The completion of the Human Genome project is bringing out the potentially tremendous  impact of genetic knowledge and how it is sure to change our world. It will serve as a road map of the kind of territory and effects that occur within our genes, and among our minds, bodies.

We still know very little on this whole subject. The interrelationships are extremely complex and diverse. Beware any simple judgments about what genetics mean. There is remarkable potential to use genetic information to shed light on all kinds of issues. For example, the genetic record can give insights into the development of species, past expansion of nomadic peoples, language, personality, stress, memory, sex, instinct and the effect of the environment. The last chapter contains a  discussion of what free will is, and this is very thought provoking in its implications for our own lives.

Modern genetics has dramatically broadened our understanding of stress and its impact on the body. Should we blame our genes every time we get anxious?  Dr. Bruce Lipton has made exciting progress in the field of Cellular Consciousness, and has discovered a gene with the function of designing other genes in response to stress and environmental conditions. He writes that this means we are not slaves to our DNA as had been previously implied. The impact of this has yet to be widely realized but is likely to have enormous philosophical ramifications.
 

Evolution and Philosophy

According to genetic reductionism, your chances of avoiding death from malaria are preprogrammed in your genes and in the genes of the malaria organism. You send out your team of genes to play the match, and so does the malaria parasite. If their attackers are better than your defenders, they win. This is not just bad luck, but a very fatalistic point of view, which has caused great controversy.

It also may explain why the first edition of On the Origin of the Species sold out in one day. Considered the father of evolution, Charles Darwin has been one of the most respected and most reviled figures in history. Like all famous figures, he has been surrounded by some mythology as well. What sounds pretty simple was in fact very controversial for Darwin's time (and it still is today in many parts of the Western world). What his theory basically stated is that life on earth is simply the result of billions of years of adaptations to changing environments. What this theory implied, and what Darwin stated more clearly in his book The Descent of Man, is that humans, like every other organism on earth, were the result of evolution.

"Conflict between science and religion began well before Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species.  The most famous early controversy was the trial of Galileo in 1633 for publishing Dialogue, a book that supported the Copernicun theory that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than--as the Bible suggests-- the other way around.

The so-called "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925, concerning enforcement of a Tennessee statute that prohibited teaching the theory of evolution in public school classrooms, was a fascinating courtroom drama featuring Clarence Darrow dueling with three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.  However entertaining the trial in Dayton, Tennessee was, it did not resolve the question of whether the First Amendment permitted states to ban teaching of a theory that contradicted religious beliefs."

Most of the States did pass such laws and for almost 150 years the body of scientific evidence grew, until in 1996, Pope John Paul II declared that the evolution of organisms is beyond reasonable doubt and that the conclusions reached by scientific disciplines cannot be in contradiction with divine Revelation. But for some, the problem remains. If God did not create everything in six days, then where does God come into the story of mankind?

An interpretation of Darwin's theories on the social level resulted in the eugenics movement. While eugenics dates back to ancient Greece--Plato introduces his prescripts for the conception of children with allusions to the advantageous ways of breeding hunting dogs and game birds--orthodox Darwinists such as Francis Galton and Karl Pearson saw selective breeding as a way to solve civilization's problems. Furthermore, Galton, who coined the term "eugenics," saw Darwinist beliefs as an argument for racial differences. Eugenic ideas were quickly adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis who felt that many non-Aryan human beings had weaker minds and that several humans were nothing more than "useless eaters."

Materialism is the most simplistic explanation of reality: the belief that all that exists is the physical; there are no higher realities; no psychic or spiritual truths independent of the physical world. Materialism itself is a meme, a specific, culturally determined way of thinking about reality.  In contrast to Materialism, Dualism states that over and beyond the physical reality there is a psychic or spiritual reality, and that our beings are not limited to the body alone. From the earliest times the mind has been assumed to be separate from the body.

In theological terms, Dualism is the belief that there are two opposite forces (God and Satan) in continual conflict and that the outcome of the conflict is in doubt until the very end - if that end should ever come. We live in a dualistic world with dualism being the basis of philosophy and religion. In western thought, the bible is the original source about the creation of dualism, with the story of Adam and Eve distinguishing between good and bad. Is there any life after death, or did we simply exist before birth? The central theme one who succeeds in the destruction of the dualism will achieve Immortality and transcend duality. Jesus and Buddha are teaching the way of the destruction of dualism in order to enter the paradise.

We are not just feeding our brain senseless questions. Our thinking actually takes place in a dualistic system. As far as logic is concerned, the human brain resembles a kind of analog computer. A thermostat is an example of a simple analog computer -- it is either off or on, depending on the amount of data it receives. When a sufficient number of neurons fire in our brain, we become aware of something which before we were not aware of. In order to make a value judgment, our brain needs to have two ends to the yardstick, so to speak. It needs to assume there is black and white in order to evaluate shades of gray, just as temporal events need a beginning and an end. And the brain needs good and bad before it can be very morally reliable.

Whatever we do not understand we tend to make into something very bad or very good, so that by comparison we can have a sense of meaning and implication, so that we can evaluate. So, when we question the existence of God,  if the answer is yes, then no must also exist.

"Poor old René Descartes usually gets the blame for the dualism that has dominated Western thinking and made us all so resistant to the idea that the mind can affect the body and the body can affect the mind, too. He barely deserves the blame for an error we all commit. In any case, the fault is not so much dualism -- the notion of a separate mind detached from the material matter of the brain. There is a far greater fallacy that we all commit, so easily that we never even notice it. We instinctively assume that bodily biochemistry is cause whereas behavior is effect, an assumption we have taken to a ridiculous extent in considering the impact of genes upon our lives.

If genes are involved in behavior then it is they that are the cause and they that are deemed immutable. This is a mistake made not just by genetic determinists, but by their vociferous opponents, the people who say behavior is "not in the genes"; the people who deplore the fatalism and predestination implied, they say, by behavior genetics. They give too much ground to their opponents by allowing this assumption to stand, for they tacitly admit that if genes are involved at all, then they are at the top of the hierarchy. They forget that genes need to be switched on, and external events -- or free-willed behavior -- can switch on genes.

If you go bungee jumping or take a stressful job, or repeatedly imagine a terrible fear, you will raise your cortisol levels, and the cortisol will dash about the body busy switching on genes. It is also an indisputable fact that you can trigger activity in the "happiness centers" of the brain with a deliberate smile, as surely as you trigger a smile with happy thoughts. It really does make you feel better to smile. The physical can be at the beck and call of the behavioral. Far from us lying at the mercy of our omnipotent genes, it is often our genes that lie at the mercy of us".  - from the Source Code
 

Paradigm shifts always begin with many more questions than answers. If there's a loving God, why does this pain-wracked world groan under so much suffering and evil? How can he sanction the slaughter of innocent children as the Old Testament says he did? If God cares about the people he created, how could he consign so many of them to an eternity of torture in hell just because they didn't believe the right things about him? If God is the ultimate overseer of the church, why has it been rife with hypocrisy and brutality throughout the ages?  If the miracles of God contradict science, then how can any rational person believe that they're true?

It does often seem that life on earth lives at the mercy of powerful non-biological forces like volcanic eruptions, storms, climate change, and even the movement of continents. With the discovery of DNA it was beginning to seem that our genetic heredity determined who and what we became. Behaviorism would have had us believe that we are merely the product of genetic selection (the survival of the fittest.) This theory, and a contingent who facilitated it (like Hegel and Kant and Marx) led to some very dreary prospects for mankind. Theodore Drieser and Steven Crane, for example portrayed a raw, "slice of  life," with characters subjected to the whims of impersonal, brute forces beyond their comprehension or control. The theme was aliens in an alien world, with no real rhyme or reason.

There were some who knew better. Walt Whitman, for one, was brave enough to proclaim that it is obvious that there is more to a man than what is "between his boots and his hat." Henry Miller declared that "all is miraculous" and that at the heart of the miraculous is "utter simplicity." Nonetheless the measuring and quantifying became intensely serious, and there began a lot of "throw out the baby with the bath" nonsense.

Darwinism spread outside of biology proper to influence psychology, sociology, economics, philosophy, and law. Literature and the other arts all experienced some unfortunate expressions of nihilism and the like. Apart from a bit of healthy muckraking this was not our finest hour. And to make matters worse this (and the wars) paved the way for the "action" genre in the media, and handed control of that situation to the mass-marketing boys with tight little financial formulas about how many killings and/or breasts per hour an acceptable TV series must contain or get "dropped". By the time our children come into puberty, they have witnessed tens of thousands of such incidents of mindless violence and gratuitous sensuality. Then we seem puzzled why kids are having babies and shooting each other? Duh!

Now that we are beaming this crap into the third world, will we be just as puzzled when other sleeping beasts begin to stir? The cow is already out of the barn but harkening back to a dark age morality won't make things right. Goodness is not dependent upon theology or even upon a faith in God. In fact man's greatest inhumanity to man has always come out of indignation. Whether is is a righteous attempt at separation of the lot into a good and a worthless portion, or fear and bigotry, or holy war, it is man at his worst.

Continuing to ignore the situation is no better. Precious few solutions have been offered up for this thorniest of problems. In that sense, deed is more important than creed. "Every inherited 'morality' begins with an answer on whose behalf all questions must constantly rearrange themselves."

In the end, science neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. More often than not, the scientific evidence can be read either way. Apart from moral considerations it is very likely that the vertebrate genome is going to be re-written. Hopefully everyday physical and mental health will be the result, and sublime well-being will become the norm.

Meanwhile, your genes belong to you, a biological grounding for your human nature. Your genes are activated by events in the external world, by the activity of other genes, and apparently by your own free will. Our genes shape us, but now we know that we shape them in turn. 

In an interview, a mother declared that she would rather see her child dead than to except evolutionism and give up the fundamentalist principles by which she had raised the child. 

The important point is the understanding of the heart. The Bible is not threatened by responsible scientific investigations. But those who seek to us it to prove that "if we are right, then they must be wrong," still feel threatened. Discovering deeper meaning and purpose of life through the scriptures need not deny or distort the data of science. Once again wisdom begets inclusion, and perhaps we are one step closer to unitive consciousness.

Links


 
  • GMO links
  • Major "evolution" sites
  • Year 2067 - Human Genome - Links to human genome information, photos and researchers. Check out the stunning progress on this project. Also links to nanotechnology, cryonics, robotics and virtual reality sites.
  • Better World - This web site shows how humanity can unite in good and noble actions to achieve the best life possible for everyone, and has links to organizations working toward a better world.
  • Science and Faith - Reconciling Science and Religion - Society_and_Culture Religion Faiths_and_Practices Christianity Apologetics Science and religion can be reconciled if they each pursue the same reality. Quantum theory is often misrepresented. God does not fiddle at the edges, but sustains the regularities of nature.
  • Intellectual History - lots of links from University of California
  • The New Being Project - Exploring the strong possibility of an imminent human evolutionary jump and how we might participate in it, or even modify it.
  • Imagination and mental images- Consciousness, and Cognition: Scientific, Philosophical and Historical Approaches and their relevance to the understanding of consciousness and cognition, as approached primarily through the methods of analytical philosophy, experimental psychology, cognitive science, and the history of ideas/intellectual history.
  • The New Being Project - Exploring the strong possibility of an imminent human evolutionary jump and how we might participate in it, or even modify it.
  • Utopia - Communities, films, links, Future - by Mark/Space
  • The Molecular Biology Of Paradise - Our genetically-enriched descendants are likely to view us as little better than psychopaths.
  • Culture and Thought - Links
  • The roots of the NEW AGE

 

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If it is true that the New Age will bring all the energy we want ~will we use it as a
weapon of our own self-destruction? Could this be the central issue of our lives?