Natures wonders: Crocodile tools (Introduction)

by dhw, Thursday, December 12, 2013, 17:38 (2400 days ago) @ David Turell

Dhw: So let us focus solely on ants. What exactly is the theistic theory on offer here? 1) God preprogrammed the very first living cells to pass on the programme that would produce ants (along with umpteen billion other species) plus every single response that ants could make to a changing environment, including the building of underground cities, farming, military strategies, teaching the young etc. 2) God specially created ants, and inserted a programme for every single response, as in 1). 3) God preprogrammed the very first living cells to pass on the programme that would produce ants, but every so often, when ants face new problems, he dabbles with the programme to provide them with a solution (e.g. rafting). Or 4) God provided the very first living cells with the ability to cooperate freely (i.e. not preprogrammed) in producing any number of species, including ants which would independently work out their own solutions to new problems.

DAVID: We have found evidence supporting all of your choices except 4). Cells are highly programmed. Read Dr. Woese's article, courtesy of George, carefully.

I have read it carefully. There is no evidence for any of these hypotheses. Woese makes no attempt to explain what he calls "novelty", and although in a very limited way he challenges the perceived concept of common descent, he calls for a holistic view focusing on "evolution, emergence, and biology's innate complexity". But he also quotes David Bohm's warning of 40 years ago: "If the trend continues...scientists will be regarding living and intelligent beings as mechanical..." N.B. Bohm did not specify humans, although it's not clear how far he was extending his notion of "beings". (Shapiro referred to bacteria as sentient beings.)Woese himself asks: "If they are not machines, then what are organisms?" The question itself shows quite clearly that he does not regard organisms (i.e. communities of cells, among which we can include ants) as machines, whereas if they are preprogrammed and have no freedom to do anything beyond what is preprogrammed, you can hardly call them anything other than machines.

Furthermore, Woese sees evolution as a bumpy road, on which the "outcomes of these transitions, saltations, are not predictable a priori" (which fits in better with higgledy-piggledy that with pre-planning). He does not go so far as to suggest that cell communities are intelligent, but the following concurs absolutely with the research done by Margulis, Shapiro, Albrecht-Buehler et al: "A common thread that links language and multicellularity is communication (interaction at a distance). In each case a complex, sophisticated network of interactions forms the medium within which the new level of organization (entities) comes into existence." Of course you can impose your theory and insist that it's all mechanical instinct preprogrammed by your God, but that is not what Woese says. He says explicitly that organisms are not machines.

What he is examining here is the pre-Darwinian evolution of cells. The first proteinaceous cells are "a kind of novelty that we would not encounter in the modern biological era, and it had to have been generated in a kind of way that we have yet to fathom." However, he does conclude that evolution began "in a highly multiplex fashion, from many initial ancestral starting points, not just a single one", and talks of a "shotgun strategy" rather than a rifle (again hardly offering support for your divine preprogramming).

In short, Woese rejects the notion of organisms (cell communities) as machines, makes no mention whatsoever of divine preprogramming, confirms the sophistication of the mechanisms enabling cells to communicate and cooperate, and when it comes to origins clearly shares Schrödinger's view: "In an honest search for knowledge you quite often have to abide by ignorance for an indefinite period." This doesn't mean giving up ... it is "a signpost to further quest". I've no idea what Woese's religious tendencies were, but all of this strongly suggests agnosticism to me, and you certainly can't claim that his article supports your divine preprogramming-and-dabbling hypothesis while rejecting that of "the intelligent cell". It does neither. We remain ignorant.

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