Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Evolution, a topic uneasy

February 12th of this year is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, one of the greatest biologists and philosophers in history. Darwin left us one of the most magnificent (and debated) treasure of human mind --- the theory of biological evolution.

It is ironic. I do not believe the biological evolution from one species to another. I believe God creation. At the same time, however, I concord on the theory of natural selection that the form (but not the DNA) of the species must evolve with the change of the environment (or the other external reasons). But such an evolution could not cause the emergence of any new species.

My proposed model of World Wide Web evolution is a reflection of this viewpoint of evolution. By default the Web evolution model exclaims the existence of the creators on the Web (such as the Web researchers) who take the responsibility to invent new types of Web resources whenever there is an accumulated qualitative transition. The innovated new types of Web resources could emerge only by creation instead of by evolution. After the creators have invented a new type of Web resources, the Web automatically evolves through the quantitative accumulation of the Web resources and demands the next invention when the amount of accumulation reaches threshold. Therefore, a main issue of Web evolution is to study the subtle and sophisticated relations between the creation and the evolution on the Web. Darwin, on the other hand, disclaimed the existence of creation in his theory.

An issue that is asynchronous to Darwin's model of evolution is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which claims that any isolated system cannot move towards a higher degree of order without the interruption of the external forces. The Darwinian scholars explains it by saying that the biological system we witness is an open instead of isolated system. The problem is, however, that even an open system may not automatically reach a higher degree of order unless there is an intentional external force added upon the system. A room may keep neat because there is someone clean it up intentionally; water may flow from low to higher place because there is a pump intentionally pull it up; and so on. Mathematically and statistically, we know that without intentional design the entire accumulated external forces to a system generally still makes the system move to a state of greater entropy (i.e., lower degree of order). Then there is the question, who does maintain the "intention"? The Darwinian biological evolution could occur only if existing a great "intentional" (and also natural and automatic) external force that itself has to last at least hundreds of centuries and maintains unchanged. I have to say that the faith (instead of the so-called "scientific evidence") needed to believe this Darwinian evolution is absolutely no less than the faith to believe in God creation.

But, Darwin's theory of evolution is still, indeed, a great contribution to mankind.

From one side, it totally discloses the sinful nature of human beings. Without God, our human society is exactly what Darwin observed---a society of natural selection. Only the stronger deserves of surviving while the weaker should, would, and need to be eliminated. By this theory, many truly "unnatural" behaviors such as race termination become "scientific" and "natural" because these people say that it is due to natural selection. Because of this theory, to help the weak strangers becomes a virtue instead of a responsibility of human being. Because of this theory, we are self-excused from many of our evil behaviors since they are nothing but some natural inheritance from our animal ancestors. It is unsurprising that Darwin's theory is so much welcomed. A theory that excuses our sin by costing us nothing cannot be unpopular.

On the other hand, Darwin's theory is a true summary of our present real world. We are in a Darwinian world and many of the rules in this world obeys Darwin's theory. Hence, Darwin's theory is scientific, I agree.


Ari Kesisoglu said...

I really liked your example of the web. The fact that the web evolves by itself today doesn't mean that it was never created by someone/or some group.

Darwin's theory is really beautiful in that it explains what happens in our environment quite well.

In my opinion it is not equipped to accept or deny the existence of a creator as its 'findings' are accepting the existence of a system. With that, you can argue about the creation of a specific species (whether everything in the system today was created in one day or not), but not really about the creation of the system itself.

Anyways, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Yihong Ding said...

thank you for the comments, Ari.

Anonymous said...


Great stuff as per usual!

Your posts really save me time. Each post you make reduces my need to blog about the same issues :-)

I've zapped some "tweets" today re. Linked Data, that you may find interesting etc..

btw - have you considered making it up to Cambridge for our monthly gathering? [1].



meika said...

From one side, it totally discloses the sinful nature of human beings. Without God, our human society is exactly what Darwin observed---a society of natural selection. Only the stronger deserves of surviving while the weaker should, would, and need to be eliminated.

This is a fallacy. Those mostsusceptible to it would be conservative hierarchists (see four cultures blog for general discussion of the four culture theory of risk).

This position confuses intentions that we as human ascribe to the world around us (over-extrapolated and over-extended theory of mind about other humans). The world around us, and processes in it, do not have intentions.

Shit happens.

This type of fallacy is evidence for evolution IMHO. Only evolution can come up with things as silly as these fallacies and "intelligent design."

We have a strong desire to project gods (intentions) onto too many things.

Anonymous said...

It appears you are working under a few misconceptions, with regard to Evolution by Natural Selection and indeed the thermodynamics.

There is nothing in the second law of thermodynamics that requires an "intentional", by which I assume you mean directed or purposefully , external force. All it states is that within a closed system (i.e one in which there is no net flow of energy in or out) the entropy of that system will increase i.e. it will become more disordered.

Earth is anything but a closed system there is a plentiful supply of external energy, namely the Sun. Now if you took the entropy of the entire system you would see an increase in entropy, but locally you see the transfer of energy from one part to another. That is you see the Sun becoming increasingly more and more disordered (as it's energy is radiated out) while pockets of on Earth (for example) become more ordered. If this flow, this trade where not true then not only would we (as species, ordered collections of atoms) not be possible, nor would the Earth or, for example, the transfer of energy from food into living tissue.

I also wish to address a couple of additional points.

Firstly that evolution is in some way an excuse for "sin". Natural Selection says no such thing. Natural Selection acts on the gene not the society, and in doing so is wholly blind. But in no way should this be interpreted as a justification for bigotry. Indeed should I wish I would find it much easier to construct an argument that religion is the root of evil and the justification for war and persecution of others. But I shall not go there.

Finally I find it interesting that you believe natural selection can act on the form (somatic cells) but not the DNA.

Since it is the DNA that is the mechanism of hereditary, the stuff that is passed down from one generation to the next, it is in fact the DNA upon which natural selection acts. The slight variations in the DNA from one generation to the next are the materials of evolution. The the somatic cells cannot be agents in this because they die (are not passed on) at the end of the individuals death.

Anonymous said...

@Ari I think that natural selection has a lot to say about the existence of a creator. It provides a much more satisfactory explanation of the evidence we see in the world around us.

Sure if we're being literal then that doesn't preclude the idea of a creator. But there is absolutely no evidence to support the view that there is a creator so while it might 'theoretically' be true it is an unhelpful position.

And of course if you do decide to invoke the idea of a creator then you are then left with a much bigger problem. Namely where did the creator come from? Who created the creator?

Yihong Ding said...


I am really looking forward to attending this one, especially it will discuss the biomedical web community. I am also interested in your presentation about using linked data to solve real-world problems. However, our project partners will come to visit us on-site next week from Monday to Wednesday. It would be very difficult for me to figure out a proper time frame to come. But I will try.

wish you had a great meetup!


Yihong Ding said...


thank you for the comments.

As you said, the earth is an open system. I totally agree to it. The issue is, however, that even to an open system, what is the force that brings the decrease of entropy directionally and consistently? As we have observed all kinds of open systems existed in nature, there may be temporary decrease of entropy. But there are no examples of consistent entropy decrease lasting for decades, let it alone for centuries. This fact is, however, reasonable since *statistically* we know that the random external forces added upon any system in general are often coming from all directions evenly. Hence the overall impact always leads a system to a certain equibilium state, which cannot be a consistent entropy-decrease state.

Again, as I said, when you BELIEVE that the nature itself can produce a consistent entropy-decrease state for millions of years even if the system is an open system, this faith requires no less than believing in God.


Anonymous said...


In my opinion, what evolution theory says is that there hasn't been an intelligent designer to every living thing that we have around us today. This, I completely agree to. Perhaps you also can stretch this to objects, which might be a stretch but could work.

What I struggle to understand is how one can say:

A- We have a *system* that leads to the creation of well designed living organism thanks to selective probability by using the materials we had *originally*.


B- There wasn't any creators.

A -> B doesn't really work as a logical inference.

So the dilemma I come here is that:

- If you choose the scientific way, you cannot deny the creator
- If you choose the religious way, you already accept the creator

I'm actually perfectly fine with having bigger problems that you mentioned. One step at a time ;)

Anonymous said...

@ Yihong Within the system entropy is increasing, it's not decreasing - the sun is, by many orders of magnitude, going from a more ordered to a less order system. So the second law isn't being violated.

There are so many examples of where the entropy of a part decreases at the expense of other parts within a system. The conversion of food into you, the formation of planets, manufacturing. In fact I am finding it difficult to think of situations where this is not the case.

You don't need a God to solve this problem -- the problem isn't there. It's just a problem of perspective.

@Ari Evolution by Natural Selection doesn't have anything to say about Creators as such, it's just that it renders the requirement to have one null.

Natural Selection acts upon hereditary things (e.g. genres) it doesn't act upon things that aren't inherited.

So we have a theory to explain the evolution of life, we have other theories that explain the physics of the universe. None of these theories require a creator. That means that there is a small theoretical possibility there is a creator. There is also the possibility Earth was seeded with material from another planet or a hundred and one other things.

Sure there is then a logical possibility (however small) that a creator does exist... but, there is absolutely no evidence whatever for there being one. None. If you like, science has left the door open but nothing has come through. The theoretical possibility of something, but with no evidence for it should not lead one to believe in that thing. There is a equal theoretical possibility for the existence of fairies, goblins and unicorns but we choose to dismiss them because there is no evidence for them. Likewise a God.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the arguments, I appreciate your views.

What can I say; to me, keeping the door open means: "there are things we know are wrong, and there are others" (I believe this was Hume but am not sure).

No evidence doesn't necessarily suggest that an argument is wrong. This might simply be because of our weak cognitive abilities, lack of technology or other factors we don't know. Thus our discussion would fall under the second category above.

Please don't get me wrong, you have great points. They just cannot be *conclusive* about the existence or non-existence of a creator in my opinion. Obviously, in the level of societies that we dream to create, everyone is free to believe what they want to :)

Anonymous said...

@Ari you are quite right -- and I would never suggest closing off avenues of thought.

I guess it's where on the scale from complete, 100% belief in a god through to 0% there is no god you place yourself.

I'm certainly not at the 0%, but I'm probably at the 2% point (i.e. for all practical, if not theoretical purposes there is no god), it sounds like you are somewhat further up the scale. And of course that is your choice.

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