Fortune as ‘randomness’ or ‘chance’ – how the sticks fall – is a big part of biology’s insistence on the non-directed nature of mutation. And I don’t take exception with the idea that what we see in mutation isn’t directed at a solution in a trivial sense. Most mutations seemingly ‘just happen’. A lot of Christians are scandalised by the idea of ‘random mutation’ but biology is revealling more to the story than mere base-pair flips due to chemicals or UV photons.
What seems to occur is genomes in a population under stress collectively perform a search for a viable mutation, and as has been increasingly realised in molecular biology genes seem to be organised to mutate and still remain viable. Parts of genes seem to be able to hyper-mutate in response to external stresses affecting the organism, while other sections seem to resist mutation. In microbes this means the mutations will be inherited, but in multi-cellular organisms the separation of germline cells from soma-line cells is hard to cross. But it does seem to happen. Epigenetic modifications to offspring are being increasingly recognised as caused by the environmental experiences of the mother.
Thus mutation isn’t guided to a perfect solution – instead genomes seem optimised to allow enhanced rates of variation as a means of searching for a viable solution to a stressor. The collective behaviour of the population seems to work like a “learning machine” – what gets called a perceptron or neural network in computer science – which computes, as a distributed system, a new genome in response to environmental changes. Thus, as Greg Bear fictionalised in “Darwin’s Radio” and “Darwin’s Children”, there is Mind-like behaviour in evolution. There is also a lot of information transfer via viruses and horizontal gene-transfer, much like what Greg Bear imagined.
That’s what our current understanding seems to be telling us – not so much an external Intelligent Designer, separate to the process, but an immanent ‘Mind’ that searches out new solutions through the success or failure of individual genotypes-expressed-as-phenotypes. And that Mind uses more than just base-pair flips and random movements of blocks of DNA during recombination to get things happening. Gene expression can be modified even without changing the genes, mothers can modify the expression of their children’s genes, and there are plenty of other tricks in the Mind’s toolbox.
Of course for a Christian the question arises as to just how that Mind relates to God. I propose we see the natural Minds immanent in the evolutionary process as God’s agents – perhaps even “angels” – but they may not be self-reflective, and may merely be automatons. Programs if you will. But then we are but programs in the wetware we call our brains. We imagine ourselves to be separate individuals, but our minds share a common information sea we call “society” – much like the “pool of genomes” that a species population represents. If we are such tiny sub-programs in something bigger, and yet still conscious, then maybe They are conscious too. If so, then the case for them being Angels is stronger.
If so then we must ask: is the Angel of genus Homo a Fallen Angel? Is that why Satan is called the god of this Aeon and is able to say “all these kingdoms are mine“? Terribly Kabbalistic speculation and perhaps totally baseless, but the more I think on it, the more the idea gains credence. Howard Bloom’s two classic books on the concept of distributed intelligence in evolutionary processes are titled “The Lucifer Principle” and “The Global Brain”, both of which explore the role of hierarchies and social orders in evolution. One particular idea is that we each have our own “Inner Judge” that determines if we’re socially connecting, successfully or not. Failure to connect leads to “condemnation” and a failure to thrive. Recent work has shown that “loneliness” causes changes in our immune systems – we become more vulnerable to illness. People who accept the Inner Judge’s case basically lay down and die. Or actively suicide. All quite irrationally, but seemingly instinctively.
“Satan” means “Accuser” – the Inner Judge’s Prosecutor – and as Jesus put it “he was a murderer from the beginning.” In that light we don’t need to imagine a Devil as something exterior to us. Instead its power is from the evolutionary machinery that makes us NEED to be a part of a bigger social system. But the individual human ego doesn’t accept the condemnation of the Devil lightly – we can either turn to a different archetype (the Self=Christ, as Jung puts it) or we can embrace the Accuser, and accuse society back. People like Anton LeVey and Marilyn Manson consciously sided with the Satanic symbol and point out quite truthfully the flaws and failings of ostensibly Christian mainstream culture.
A great Christian thinker, Jacques Ellul, once pointed out that because Satan is the Accuser in God’s Court, then we must listen to his case against us and answer it squarely. Anything else, especially evasion, is claiming we’re without sin, and thus coming under the power of the Prince of Lies. Satan can only be defeated by truth, because everything else is from him. Knee-jerk reactions by Christians to challenges to their personal cultural idols… it only hurts themselves.