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Dawkins, Darwin, and Other Dogma: How the Tenets of Biology Are Crumbling

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It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were expected to have evolution figured out by now. You wouldn’t think that anything was amiss from the plaudits Darwin received during the bicentennial honoring of his birth in 1809. These celebrations gave the impression that biology is all sorted out – Darwin planted the seed, and everything we have learned about evolution since has simply grown from it.

The discovery of the structure of DNA in the 1950s seemed to cement the paradigm: we now had the mechanisms by which evolution occurred. We entered an era sometimes known as Neo-Darwinism, which combines his theories with modern knowledge of genetics. This has given rise to some extreme views such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ belief in the “selfish gene,” which basically says that the purpose of an organism’s behaviors and traits is geared toward the survival of the gene in order to pass it on to its progeny. Genes dictate from within and reign supreme.

Ironically, Darwin was more flexible than many of his scientific descendants. He was a true scientist, aware that new discoveries, which might prove him wrong, would come after he was gone.1 But the Neo-Darwinists have given the public the impression that the mechanisms of heredity have long been understood. On the contrary, new evidence is emerging all the time that exposes the Neo-Darwinists’ ideas for what they are – metaphors and dogmas that are not consistent with the spirit of open science, or exploration and evidence.2 It also turns out that life is much too complex to be reduced to the selfish needs of one molecule, and this has sparked a paradigm revolution. What follows are three key pieces of this emerging new picture.

Revolution #1: Environment Plays a Key Role

How much of who we are is due to our genes and how much is due to our environment? This debate has long raged in biology and seemed to have been won by the gene advocates, who have ruled for so long that we’ve almost forgotten that another point of view exists. The gene dictatorship reduced human beings to passive pawns in a game of evolution that has nothing to do with us as individuals and everything to do with maintaining the immortality of the molecules. Those who suggested that the environment had something to do with the expression of genes were seen as heretics.

It turns out, though, that the champions of the gene are proposing a scientific viewpoint that is increasingly less defensible. Evidence is mounting within mainstream academic science that the environment has a strong effect on gene expression (see molecular biologist Garret Yount’s description of his “avatar-gene experiment” in the latest issue of The Noetic Post, available to IONS Supporting Members). Given these studies and Bruce Lipton’s excellent and groundbreaking work in the area of epigenetics, it turns out that it is our perception of the environment that impacts the receptors in the cell membrane, which inform and influence gene expression.

No doubt many consider Lipton’s work heresy. After all, many biologistshave made a significant investment in claiming no environmental impact on gene expression. They certainly don’t want to add something as nebulous as “perception,” which cannot be felt or dissected, to the rapidly changing mix. But the evidence is hard to ignore; Lipton’s website features numerous papers on how perception of the environment alters gene expression.

Evidence from animal studies is also showing how epigenetic modulations to the genome could even be passed onto our progeny.3 This means that changes to DNA expression that occur during an organism’s lifetime in response to its environment are actually passed on to its children. The gene is not a “dictator” after all; it turns out that it has been listening all along. The ebb and flow of our relationship to the environment shows up at the molecular level. 

Revolution #2: Survival of the Most Cooperative

”Survival of the fittest” started out as a fundamental tenet of Darwinian biology and gradually became entrenched in our psyches. We came to believe that this is simply how things are. Wasn’t biology telling us so? Darwin’s concept of natural selection meant that if a population is faced with adverse environmental conditions, the ones who happen to have favorable genes, perhaps through a random mutation, will more easily adapt and therefore survive to reproduce more progeny, who will in turn spread this new adaptive advantage until eventually the new population replaces the old.

It’s all very good in theory. This clawing-your-way-to-the-top-of-the-pack mentality has fueled our beliefs and imaginations – vividly and memorably portrayed by the Gordon Gekko character of the 1980s film Wall Street. Gekko compares (and implicitly justifies) his cutthroat behavior to the processes of evolution. (Heres Gordon Gekko speaking on evolutionary behavior.)

Does the science add up, though? Recent findings from a team of evolutionary biologists at the University of Chicago suggest that such rapid spread of an advantageous gene has been rare in human populations – and in many plants and animals as well. More likely it spreads slowly by way of natural population migration, and not by way of a fitter population replacing another.4 In fact, if some members of a given population are blessed with a genetic advantage, this may involve their helping fellow members survive. Have human beings been practicing cooperation the whole time? 

In any case, accumulating evidencefrom population studies by the team in Chicago is showing that we need to reassess the rules of natural selection. “Survival of the fittest” may not be the most important law after all. What will happen to our psyches if mainstream science decrees that this evidence can’t be ignored? Will Gordon Gekko’s famous declaration, “Greed is good,” be revised to “Cooperation is good”?

Revolution #3: Back to the Drawing Board with the Human Genome

Ten years ago it all seemed so tangible: the Human Genome Project was about to be completed, and with it, we anticipated an era of personalized medicine. Once the genome had been sequenced, we believed that we were going to create medicines that were specific to individuals based on their genetic profile. We also believed that we’d be able to predict which diseases we were likely to get in the future and accordingly initiate preventive measures. 

This was done by monitoring something called “single nucleotide polymorphisms” (SNPs). To understand this concept, think of a stretch of DNA as a word that we all carry around. If everyone carries the same word, but some of us spell it slightly differently, we can examine whether these slight variations have any individual consequences, such as their effect in disease.

As recently as a few years ago, scientists were confident that if we found these changes, we would be able to tell which of them led to which diseases – and some scientists still feel that way. But many are starting to come around to the view that we’ve been barking up the wrong tree all along. When we examine the SNPs we currently know, we have found that they do very little in helping us to predict disease. Even with SNPs that have been associated with diabetes, for example, they only predict 6 percent of its heritability. These dim results have caused molecular biologist David Goldstein of Duke University to proclaim the entire hypothesis a thing of the past: “We have entered and left that field, which explained less than a lot of people thought it would.”5

Even when the Human Genome Project revealed that we only have 20,000 genes, far fewer than the 150,000 expected, some still clung to the notion that genes make us who we are. And now that the results show fairly conclusively that, except in rare cases, our genome can’t tell us if we’re likely to develop a particular disease, some scientists continue to think that the promised land still exists.

What does it mean that, with a few exceptions, we cannot find strong correlations between our genome and disease? Some are already looking beyond DNA to epigenetic factors and examining how these might influence disease. Others are wondering if so-called ”junk DNA,” which has previously been discarded as having no discernible purpose, may in fact have important regulatory functions.

What if we need to go deeper to find the answers? If we cannot look to a molecule within us, maybe we need to look beyond it. Physics has long declared matter to be made up of information, not of solid particles. This information lies deeper than molecules and deeper than atoms, to the very makeup of all matter. What if this information has an inherent sentience, which causes the self-organizing behavior we see all around us in nature?

Every single molecule seems to know what to do, as if it were inherently intelligent. With the matter-as-information revolution currently taking place in physics, biology should look to a new scientific paradigm as well. It should explore whether information deeper than the level of the molecule is actually powering the formation of our human bodies, and even the onset of disease. Since our current theories have been of little help, we need to embrace something new. 

We Are Not Machines

Many of the most enshrined ideas in biology are toppling, but not because of pressure from critics. This is happening from within the field itself. When we look at how, one by one, science’s most cherished ideas have fallen – from the selfish gene to survival of the fittest and the promise of gene therapy – we need to face the facts that we have simply got it wrong. 

Nature is far more fluid than we have previously believed. We are not the results of the dictates of molecular machinery. We seem instead to be so much more, leading to a new era of exploration as exciting, if not more so, as the one that gave us the theory of evolution, relativity, and quantum physics. For the first time in modern human history, the cycle of knowledge is returning to what we knew in our distant past: we are connected to something deeper. We are not machines. Intelligent information flows through us and communicates with our environment, and this means that human survival is much more likely when we cooperate. The paradigm revolution in biology promises to be something wondrous to behold.


Notes

1. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of the Species (New York: Dover, 2006). 

2. Fern Elsdon-Baker, “The Dawkins Dogma,” New Scientist, July 2009. 

3. Ibid. 

4. J. K. Pritchard, “How We Are Evolving,” Scientific American, October 2010. 

5. Stephen S. Hall, “Revolution Postponed,” Scientific American, October 2010.

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  • 16 Comments
  • Anonymous Icon

    Sondra_Barrett Dec 04, 2010

    A great article. Thank you for your insights. We should have suspected life was not only about our genes when the first dogma - one protein one gene - was eliminated by the human genome project. That the environment can influence our genes is a given when we consider mutations. However what I question is finding the balance between the possibility of belief/Mind (ala Lipton) changing our genes and the 'guilt' that could ensue when the genes didn't change in the desired way. For example, a growth regulator gene or mutated P53 gene.

    Can we change genes that contribute to malignancy or is it the environment and internal milieu that must change?

  • Anonymous Icon

    Roger Dec 04, 2010

    It certainly causes me to stop my bias toward genetics and listen to theh call of the environmental issues. However, we are still at the mercy of those genes that are passed down to us in the strongest portion of our collective development. More needs to be investigated. I still tend to focus on the 80/20 relationship of genes to enviromnent.
    Roger Simpson, P.E.
    Civil engineer retired

  • IntegralBodymind Dec 04, 2010

    Almost 2 years ago, I was desperately seeking the information to support what I felt I have always inherently known about human potential and purpose that common education did not teach, yet could not tangibly describe as a non-scientist. Stumbling upon an internet video of Dr. Bruce Lipton lecturing on the subject of epigenetics, I was instantly transported to another level of understanding and existence that has guided my life since- the pinnacle “ah-ha” moment. Soon after I had the fortune of attending a live lecture in addition to reading Biology of Belief and Spontaneous Evolution (both also available in CD form- I encourage anyone who is even slightly intrigued after reading this IONS article to read or listen).

    As all information and true science, epigenentics opens the door to more questions and will still only be a piece of the big picture leading us to an even more incredible truth beyond it. We may not know the manifest extent of application and practice for awhile since by definition this will require a certain percentage of the population to fully embrace and believe what is possible to access the potential. What do we have to loose- current health, ecology and economy systems based on outdated beliefs are failing. The skepticism and resistance due to money, time, and ego investment in old dogma will unfortunately slow progress. The age of epigenentics is long overdue, and I hope to live long enough to get a glimpse at what awaits when humanity’s collective mind finally makes that critical shift.

  • JDEvolutionist Dec 05, 2010

    An interesting article but one, that I feel, is somewhat misleading. Why?

    1. There is a tendency to imply that evolution is a 'life' based activity, it is not. Darwin's work was very specifically 'life' based and the concepts of Natural Selection tend to relate primarily to this 'life' based evolutionary activity. This itself can be a source of confusion.

    2. There is a sense of almost delight that past theories are ‘wrong’ and therefore to be dismissed. Evolution does not dismiss its past states and neither should new learning, itself an evolutionary process, dismiss past thinking and ideas. Current thinking is based on evolving understanding of past thinking that was in its day the ‘current’ thinking. It will be a long time before we reach a stage when thinking, based on interpretation of the existing states of cellular structures as created by representative sensory stimulation sourced both externally and internally by the thinking being, is even remotely totally right! Especially when, in the light of Condition of Existence (see below) it is realised that truth itself evolves.

    3. Darwin was very aware of the importance and significance of Conditions of Existence in his concept of Natural Selection but he was of the opinion that Conditions of Existence (and consequentially Unity of Type) were fully embraced by it.

    4. There is a tendency to conceive of conditions of existence as being exclusively specific to a particular location. This is itself misleading for, while conditions of existence are always unique at any specific location within Space-Time, the conditions themselves are never independent of the totality of existence. Hence my preference to think in terms of Condition of Existence (note the singular) being the state of the 'Wholeness', that is existence, as it exists in the present. In these terms, while Darwin’s contention that Natural Selection embraced conditions of existence was right, it is wrong to imply that it embraces Condition of Existence. Indeed Natural Selection, as a fundamentally ‘life’ based process, came into existence much later in the time line of evolution.

    5. In the light of understanding arising from the above it becomes possible to see Evolution, and hence Natural Selection, as a product of Condition of Existence – to see Condition of Existence as the driver of evolution. With this understanding the complex processes of evolution and, in the context of the article, specifically of genetics, epigenetics and genomes can be seen in a somewhat different light. Everything is subject to its condition and that condition is always and continually unique. Everything is a part of the Whole; the Whole is constantly evolving; the Whole exists only in the present and the Whole is uniquely unique (by that it is meant that as existence flows through time, change and hence uniqueness is unavoidable and repetition is impossible) and Everything is itself also uniquely unique.
    (continued)

  • JDEvolutionist Dec 05, 2010

    6. Surprisingly, there still seems to be a naivety associated with understanding of evolution that fails to fully recognise the significance of the retrospective identifiable stages that exist and continue to evolve within the process. Of these perhaps the most significant so far is the evolution of mind, Phenomenal Evolution; not least because it has introduced to the general process of evolution the potential to influence its course as a result of actions that have their source based in an environment subject to the influence of error.

    7. The statement “We are not machines. Intelligent information flows through us and communicates with our environment, and this means that human survival is much more likely when we cooperate.” is very true and needs to be understood more universally. Unfortunately, it is also very simplistic. The existence of error within the information that is flowing has enormous potential to make even the best intentions highly destructive.

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    winddancer Dec 05, 2010

    I've just been re-reading Ervin Lazlo's "Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything." The article above and following comments address the new information derived from recent studies in biological sciences. As stated in the article, the old premises have been proven inadequate to explain these new discoveries. Lazlo's theory is based on cutting-edge research in different fields (cosmology, biology, physics and consciousness being some of them) that point to a common answer to many puzzles: the Quantum vacuum or zero point field (zpf). He gives examples in several scientific fields of the effect of the Quantum Vacuum in such mysterious areas as entanglement and non-locality--what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." A more recent book of his includes comments on the applicability of his theory to various fields by some of their leading scientists.

    In my area of consciousness research, based on experiences I've had since childhood and contacts wtih those who live beyond the limits of current human expression and thought, Lazlo's theory comes closest to anything I've read to integrate these experiences into a more understandable whole. There is still great mystery, of course. Lazlo points us in a direction to explore the true mystery rather than getting stuck in human theories and beliefs that have proven to be inadequate guideposts.

    It's inspiring to know that others are seeking truth from the depths within themselves, unwilling to be stopped by what is said to be our human limits. Thank you all.

    Alicia Adams

  • Anonymous Icon

    LawrenceCarson Dec 05, 2010

    Sensing the Brilliance of Genious Part I

    To one who does not have access to Manjir’s calibrated Meta-scope, her insights are brilliant. To one who does ... has already seen into this living universal library of pure genius. If you may, please allow me to explain.

    Manjir’s comment “What if this information has an inherent sentience, which causes the self-organizing behavior we see all around us in nature?” … is not just a fantastic Socratic question. It is a refreshing and enlightening invitation for others with an abundance of scientific curiosity to explore beyond the current limitations of man’s science.

    I strongly suspect that Marjir’s suggestions are merely small fragments of an entire text she already knows yet is holding back. Her invitation above is an incredible gift … but only for those with her level of courage, curiosity, commitment and yes, the tuition of humility that makes it all work. Just what does this term “sentience” mean and relate to various “Contextual “levels of understanding? Perhaps Louis Henri Sullivan (September 3, 1856 – April 14, 1924) an American architect, employer and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright may shine additional light on the subject.
    .

    “It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
    Of all things physical and metaphysical,
    Of all things human and all things super-human,
    Of all true manifestations of the head,
    Of the heart, of the soul,
    That the life is recognizable in its expression,
    That form ever follows function.
    This is the law.”
    - Louis Henri Sullivan

    “That life is recognizable in its expression.” What does this statement really mean, and more importantly, where did Mr. Sullivan go and what did he experience in order to arrive at this illuminating conclusion? Can anything be known or recognizable without the “essence” the life-blood of awareness, the power of sentience?

    Sentience, in its most simplistic meaning is having the capacity to form perceptions (the awareness of consciousness of one’s memory and re-cognition of that recalled result) via the life inducing attribute of awareness. Without awareness, the capacity for self-survival (self-replicating feedback system of any expression) is impossible. Could Louis be telling us that the core essence of life expresses and all of its expressions are life and living? Let’s explore this path and experience what it may have to offer.

  • Anonymous Icon

    LawrenceCarson Dec 05, 2010

    The Underlying Nature of Relating Realities Part II

    Mass, and the very energy it comes from are both dependent “forms of effects” sired within a much larger “Functional Contextual field of Causation,” a womb or Meta Matrix of all creative effects. Pure and simple logic informed Mr. Sullivan and perhaps us as well as us that:

    As form follows function … “Function field’s systemically precedes Form.”
    As function precedes form … “Purpose systemically precedes Process.”
    As purpose precedes process … “Context systemically precedes Content.”
    As context precedes content … “Cause systemically precedes Effects.”
    As cause precedes effects … “Awareness systemically precedes Knowledge.”

    Therefore we can readily reason two levels a play …
     Function = Purpose = Context = Causation = Awareness…

    … it thereby needs must be that …
     Form= Process = Content = Effect = Knowledge

    Now to explore beyond the limits of our current belief systems ... we need to refine our thought processes. Our thought-tools need to be as sharp as surgical knives in the surgery room in order to cut to the essence of success. So let us now begin to sharpen and recalibrate our tools of thought.

    Let us now allow the word “Essence” to represent the sole and original energy source … the core starting attribute of all energy that ever was … is … or ever will be with all other conceivable forms of energy being an inductive derivative thereof. With such a definition, “Essence” would be the missing link needed to sense and understand the very nature and principium of the unified field that many still are pondering. It is the potter’s clay from which the Zero Point Field is a construct thereof. In other words, “Essence” is the original starting point and functional element of all causation. Essence would thus be … in summation … part-of-and-parcel-to … any and all resulting processes (verbs) as well as things (nouns) that follow. [The Essence or “Awareness Essons” would thus be the precursors to all force fields of quarks and leptons.]

    And next, let hone in on and sharpen the word “quantum” to represent the smallest minimum amount of ANY and ALL “physical entity” manifestations. The word quantum would thus symbolize and represent the smallest of nouns or mass-things that ever have or will exist down to the femtosecond realities of gluons, bosons, photons, gravitons and their descendants. Then, and with these two highly calibrated word-tools of pure thought we can now readily experience the reality that the Awareness Essence is to quantum … as cause is to effect.

    Picture below: Essence (a Functional Causation) loops to Quantum (Formed Effects) which in turn loops back to the underneath Essence in a self-sustaining coherently linked system of life evolving.

    >>> Sorry, the graphic would not print here<<

  • Anonymous Icon

    LawrenceCarson Dec 05, 2010


    Sensing the Brilliance of Genius – Part III

    Therefore, I would like to pose the notion that not only is matter and energy a construct AND … a container of this Awareness Essons … they both are also constructs within a much larger Contextual Womb or Meta Matrix of the Zero Point Field from which living museums of the universe are all derived.
    For those that have been there, experienced it and seen it with eyes not limited to their physical presence … nothing need be said. For those who haven’t … we can smile. Time equalizes all. The latter are not her for us to scorn or change; the former to unite in a common cause and provide the alternative based upon what treasures we have given.

    "That the life is recognizable in its expression,
    That form ever follows function."

    Lawrence Carson
    Boise, Idaho
    Formally Supai Arizona – at Bottom of the Grand Canyon with the Havasupai Native Americans

  • Anonymous Icon

    cliffordmeixner Dec 06, 2010

    All I can say is take a look at laminin, the molecular structure that literally holds us together.
    Google it and look at the images.
    It's either the one of the greatest coincidences in history, or there is some sort of plan out there. Still up to you to decide.

  • Anonymous Icon

    DrManjir Dec 06, 2010

    Thank you all for your feedback and comments. The concepts behind the Theory of Evolution have indeed evolved over time. Unfortunately, in the UK at least, Dawkins and his collaborators present a sense of absolution to the general public. This is not the true spirit of biology or evolutionary theory. It is this dogmatic drive that we should be wary about in science and I am highlighting the fact that biologists who are in mainstream academia are indeed complaining that the neo-Darwininst approach is not standing up to scrutiny, when the current evidence is analysed.
    If you would like to know more on my thoughts about biology and the quantum vacuum, I refer you to my publication Punk Science, in which I demonstrate how the quantum vacuum could be fractal black holes. Ultimately they are the source of information flow through matter - biological and non-biological. Punk Science elaborates on the evidence for this in greater detail.

  • Anonymous Icon

    backofmind Dec 08, 2010

    It is quite interesting to see that science is veering around to a hypothesis that every DNA component is intelligent and has capabilities of perceiving and transmitting the perceived data to its immediate environment! this leads us to think that the consciousness is spread out through our whole physical being, and not localized to an organ. If I am permitted to refer some ancient sources of such information, it has been clearly stated that every part of our being down to its cells have to be individually transformed by contemplation so that they are tuned to be effective to receive and interact with higher realms of consciousness, wherein the universality of all beings are recognized and understood to be interconnected and not separate form the individual perceiving!

  • Anonymous Icon

    backofmind Dec 08, 2010

    Our physical brain acts as a medium to collate,convey, and translate the information received into physical domain through some form of action or reaction. These functions are carried out at various levels or layers or parts of the brain. Hence to localize cognizance to brain alone may not be an ultimate hypothesis. If the emerging concept of conscious DNA components are accepted after further research findings, then it may open up another exiting possibility of transcending the physical realm to exist and the limitations imposed by these physical organs merge into a unified realm wherein the same function presently perceived to be the domain of these organs can be outside their scope too!

  • frequencytuner Dec 23, 2010

    That was an exceptionally written and inspiring article. I tend to lean more towards the general public - the masses - as the mainstream that needs to have it's course rerouted. Remember that it does not take an entire establishment to induce change. Think of a simple switching station on a railroad track. With a flick of a switch by one individual the entire course of the train can be diverted no matter how big the train is. This equally applies and has been seen time and time again throughout history. Good examples of these visionaries are Hermes, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Dee, Paracelsus, Newton, Galileo, Da Vinci, Tesla, Einstein, Bohr, Freud, Bernays, Cantor, Higgs, and of course Lipton among many others. Notice also that each of these revolutionaries appears at pivotal points in human evolution.

    We are on the cusp of yet another one of these evolutionary turning points, as was stated in the article - the turn around point. The change now must take place within the individual. This, as we know from history, is the longest and most arduous part.

  • Anonymous Icon

    RainCrow Dec 25, 2010

    One group of folks I know have developed a system by which they use an act of intention/will to influence gene expression. A sample statement might be, "I'm recoding my DNA to align with my goals of fitness and weight loss." This would be stated and a physical signal or lack thereof would be used to determine whether they were successful in accomplishing the stated goal of "recoding" said DNA. They have developed a whole system of "wellness" on such statements and signals that prevents or cures illness and confirms successful intention to do so. I have done this and know that it does work. I have cured or prevented the common cold many times, and have not been sick with any viral illness in about 4 years. Previously, I had a cold two or three times a year, usually with chronic bronchitis as a result for several months out of the year. Now if I feel a cold coming on, I say, "I'm removing all viruses from all my bodies," or some such statement, look for the signal, and the cold never develops. I think this is a phenomenon that I think IONS should investigate.

  • Anonymous Icon

    Prestoz Nov 22, 2012

    I found this article very interesting and am pleased that there is at least discussion/debate on this topic. I am not an academic but rather what I choose to flatteringly call an "eclectic auto-didact." In my opinion the whole Darwinian 19th century "engineering view of the stupid universe" just does not match up to the awesome majesty of the 21st century universe. And the ease by which the "survival of the fittest" meme slides into place to support the social Darwinistic status quo is downright creepy. But most importantly, there are a few subjects about which the mainstream answer has never "felt" quite right to me, and this is one of them. However this article reasonates very strongly with me as being closer to the truth. I don't trust my "feelings" for everything, but they have thusfar proved a very accurate barometer. It is pleasing that the hitherto dismissive, dogmatic and patronising view of mainstream science is waning and metaphysical influences are gaining creedence - not that those of us who already know and trust need convincing.

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