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Sunday, December 5, A.D. 2010

Random Mutation Generator

I found a funny site called the Random Mutation Generator, which allows you to “Do your own Darwinian Evolution experiments.” The generator randomly mutates text. The default example is the classic, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” From there, let us see the generator arrive at a line from Shakespeare.

Of course, the Darwinian minded will say that given enough time and instantiations, we should expect to see something coherent come to be. I have always found this argument curious in that it appears to me to be willfully blind to the point of probability. Normally, we concern ourselves with probabilities to indicate not the field of the possible, no matter how unlikely, but rather the probable and likely. Such statistics are informative about the world; they reveal tendencies of how things are and act. The Darwinian approach to probability is different. Instead of considering probabilities, it rather takes a specific outcome—namely, the living world as it is—and argues that it could have come to be so through random changes with only natural selection as the ordering mechanism.

Imagine that every man in New Zealand stood at his door with a coin heads up on his open palm. It is within the bounds of the possible that such a situation followed a random coin toss by all those New Zealanders. There is nothing contradictory therein. However, it would be extremely improbable. A more sensible explanation would be that the New Zealanders agreed to place the coins heads up on their palms, maybe due to some odd Kiwi cultural quirk. Neither explanation involves a contradiction, but only one strikes the normal person as reasonable. Our minds appreciate probability; for the world typically follows predictable patterns.

The Darwinian seems to assess evolution as one who thinks that the New Zealanders had a simultaneous coin toss that resulted in all pieces heads up. For he presumes that order comes from chaos when the extremes of possibility are entertained. Even without criticizing the metaphysical problems with attributing explanatory power to randomness, this presumption defies good sense. Order does not arise from chaos, a chimpanzee pecking at a typewriter is not going to compose Hamlet, and the amazing order that we see in life comes not to be through random mutations. To be fair to the Darwinians, they do offer natural selection as an ordering principle. Yet, natural selection only “works” with the random mutations provided; it does not determine or guide which mutations occur. As such, natural selection as an explanatory principle for the emergence of prevalent traits in particular environments is totally convincing. It makes sense, and it is observable. Given the diversity of a population, it is easy to see how certain traits would be advantageous in certain circumstances. Yet, we must keep in mind the probabilities involved in random mutations occurring at just the right times and places and numbers to explain the evolution of all life, and to me such appears absurd.

Besides acknowledging the creative power of God, I have no idea what forces have driven the evolution of life. In other words, I do not know how the divine creative power manifests in the genealogy of life. Given what little I know of genetic research, I suspect that there is some sort of biological force of which we are still ignorant. Consider the following. Before the discovery of the weak and strong nuclear forces, we could not explain the structural behavior of the atom. The atomic level could not behave as things on the planetary scale in a Newtonian world, with gravity as the determining force, or atoms would not be able to retain their structures given their interactions. Hence, we discovered that other forces are present in matter. Similarly, it seems that another such force may exist that would explain evolution from a “horizontal” perspective. Are we on the edge of witnessing another scientific paradigm shift to one wherein teleology complements mechanism? Dare I say that it is probable?

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, December 5, Anno Domini 2010
Philosophy | MetaphysicsPhysics • (0) Comments
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