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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Intelligent Design? Prove It!

In the past few years, new discoveries in science and genetics are creating revolutionary understandings of how we got here, what our "meaning" is, and how life seems to operate.

One great summary of this new knowledge is a book called Survival Of The Sickest, by Dr Sharon Moalem. In it, Dr Moalem points out that diseases we have today may have been necessary adaptive responses to the past. In a new field called Epigenetics, Dr. Moalem writes that Lamarckian transmission, a notion that was discredited in the past, has now become an accepted idea within the field of Epigenetics.

What is Lamarckian Transmission? It is the idea that we evolved through "acquired traits" developed by different species. A giraffe, according to old Lamarckian ideas, got its long neck by constantly reaching fore the higher leaves that became increasingly hard to reach on trees.

What Epigenetics now shows us that it is possible for gene expression to occur as a result of influences from our environment. A recent cover story in Time magazine points this out.

Without getting involved in details, the human body is composed of "germ cells", those cells which are contributed by our parents as the basic building blocks that make "you" and "me' unique. But there is now evidence that the body carries a large majority of genes that used to be called "junk DNA", which Dr. Moalem points out is actually related to viruses.

This is called "non-coding DNA", not used in the normal process of cell building in our bodies, but seems to be a kind of database or library to which our bodies refer whenever we need to adapt to some new disease or infection. These very genes are also known as "jumping genes", which were discovered by Dr Barbara McClintock several years ago. These jumping genes actually follow certain patterns that cause them to "jump" to certain areas that activate gene expression in our own bodies.

In fact, writes Dr, Moalem, "Jumping genes are very active in the early stages of brain development, inserting genetic material all over the developing brain, almost helter-skelter, as a normal part of brain development. Every time one of those jumpers inserts or changes genetic material in brain cells, it's technically a mutation. And all of this genetic jumping around may have a very important purpose--it may help to create the variety and individuality that make every brain unique. This developmental frenzy of genetic copy and paste only happens in the brain, because that's where we benefit from individuality".

Imagine that. Our parents provide the core, the germ cells that create the basic blueprint of us, and then our bodies access a "library" of former viral DNA from our collective history that begins to jump around and shape us as individuals. What appears here is a combination of heredity and environment shaping our individual destinies. Dr. Moaelm points out that a chimpanzee, simply by stroking the head of its offspring, can affect the genetic expression of that offspring!

How far does this process of genetic engineering go? Howard Bloom, in a book called Global Brain, writes:

In a crisis, bacteria did not rely on deliverance via a random process like mutation, but instead unleashed their genius as genetic engineers".

Bacteria? "Bacteria were the first to use the tools which now empower biotechnology's genetic tinkerers: plasmids, vectors, phages, and transposons--nature's gene snippers, duplicators, long distance movers, wlders, and re-shufflers....the millions--and often trillions--of bacteria in a colony used their individual individual computers, meshing them together, combining their data, and forming a group intelligence capable of literally re-programming their species' shared genetic legacy in ways previously untried and unknown".

For bacteria, from ancient times, there was "memory" stored in the reactions of genetic shuffle, absorbing viruses, which Bloom describes as "the bacteria's collaborator and its foe. Viral assaults devastated bacterial colonies--yet they tested bacterial intelligence, tweaking bacterial ingenuity, and amplified bacterial skills. Viruses also pried loose genetic pages from the creatures they attacked and inserted them in the DNA library of those they visited next while on their predatory rounds. Thus they became couriers through which bacteria swapped molecular pamphlets of new tricks and old collective memories".

The virus as a "courier" of collective genetic history, has been stored in the creative "library" of the human body, and inserted as "jumping genes" in the developing brain, allowing us to respond to the necessary cues and genetic repsonse of individual stress.

This would mean that the way we think about life actually affects gene expression!

In a very real sense, "As a man thinketh, so is he".

The germ cells that brought us into existence is not affected in the process of building our bodies, but the expression of genes stored in the "history" of our bodies, genes that once were the couriers, the viral invaders seeking to replicate themselves by hijacking our own replicative system, now compose the library of defenses our body uses when attacked by yet other viral or bacterial invaders.

But this does suggest a "design of intelligence", if not "intelligent design". It suggests that early life forms developed strategies that were quickly(by evolutionary standards) used to build ever larger systems, but always keyed to the core building blocks, the germ cells of each and every species.

But in each species, there is always the exchange of genes via viruses, from one species to another, as in Avian flu, swine flu, various flus and plagues that have infested civilization for centuries.

What does this mean in regards to the development of religion? perhaps a later essay.


James said...

You wrote:"the way we think about life actually affects gene expression!"

The way we think, the way we act on our thoughts, expresses our core being.

With this said, I wonder about the mind set of the people who send in the hate-mail to the PT.

I believe they are in denial that the religious hucksters Armstrong took them for a ride and years later, dumped them off in a strange city.

Lost and alone, betrayed, raped, threatened, they wander the streets trying to find some glimmer of help and hope. They try to grasp for something familiar, something or somebody to comfort them.

After many years of being spoon-fed collective religious pablum, the individual is lost and will strike out at anyone that threatens their reality. It takes time to sort out truth, to rid the body of the "virus" or the "cancer" of Armstrong-ism. It is at this point that the healing of the "whole mind body" has begun.

The book of objective thought has started a new page...

Purple Hymnal said...

"This would mean that the way we think about life actually affects gene expression!"

No, that isn't epigenetics at all, Ralph. You're trying to shoehorn the Bible into science again, and failing miserably. Ancient mythologies are useful, yes, but not for telling us how the natural world works.

Environmental factors cause epigenetic changes. (Read the article linked.) What scientists are looking at now, is the disturbing trend that environmental factors may influence epigenetic changes that are passed on to succeeding generations Even as far as three generations on!

Which really gives me pause, as a 2nd-gen'r, born and raised in the church. However, I don't worry about the Armstrongist mindset having brought on epigenetic changes; I worry about our restricted diets, due to both the Jewish and ministerial dietary laws, and to the crushing poverty most of us lived with on a daily basis (touched on by the article I've linked to; different situation, same end result), as well as the very real, very visceral physical reactions that church members used to have (Even me!) to the presence, sight, or smell, of "unclean" food.

Mind you, as I type this, I'm gnawing on a plateful of pork ribs, so maybe that particular epigenetic change didn't take. :-)

Purple Hymnal said...

"I believe they are in denial that the religious hucksters Armstrong took them for a ride and years later, dumped them off in a strange city."

Welcome to Holland.

Ralph said...

The way we think about the environment, about life, actually is an epigenetic factor. The reason being stated in Dr. Moalem's book regarding "jumping genes" within the brain.

Yes, environmental conditions passed on collectively within civilizations do affect several generations, but even the parallel to that was expressed in the Old Testament.

The disti9nction in the OT, however, was that "God" would visit the sins of the fathers on to the children to the third and fourth generation. HOWEVER, OT law as taught in Deuteronomy 24:17 is a parallel to our own "Bills of Attainder" and "ex post facto" laws. While there are conditions which we create, as you seem to say within the environment, that causes reactions for several generations, the law itself, as applied to other humans says:
"The fathers shall not be put to death for the children(called "corruption of blood" by the Constitution), neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers..."

The implication being that we can alter our attitudes within the law, if not our personal social habits.

Epigenetics is about environmental effects caujsing gene expression, but, since we have the "jumpig genes" that are basically a "library" of defenses held over from early encounters with past environments, our thoughts will actually affect gene expression. As Dr. Moalem points out, the environmental factors don't change the DNA, but the way in which the DNA is expressed.

"Imagine the implications of this for humans" writes Dr. Moalem, "By sending the right epigenetic signals, we can have healthier, smarter, better adapted babies".
Fathers too can pass information on to their children, as a British study pointed out. men who started to smoke before puberty had sons who were significantly fatter than normal by the time they were nine. This genetic correlation, however, was passed on to the sons, not the daughter, so there might be some relationship to the Y chromosome. This, as Dr Moaelm says, "lends a whole new meaning to sons paying for the sins of their fathers."

As to the general environmental factors you point out, Dr Moalem writes that male birth rate goes up in proportion to female during times of great conflict."That's what happened after World War I and World War II. A more recent study of six hundred mothers living in Gloucestershire, England, revealed that those who predicted that they would live well into old age were more likely to have male babies than those who predicted they would die relatively young....Tough times mean more girls".

Of course, I've enjoyed a good ham sandwich many times, and I certainly dont onbserve the "HolyDays" or the sabbath. Haven't in nearly forty years.

Ralph said...

James, an interesting point about viruses and cancer. I actually started thinking about these related principles of Epigenetics back in 1974, when I read a fascinating book by Philip Slater, called "EarthWalk":

"Imagine a mass of cancerous tissue, the cells of which enjoyed consciousness. Would they not be full of self congratulatory sentiments at their independence, their more advanced level of development, their rapid rate of growth? Would they not sneer at their more primitive cousins who were bound into a static and unfree existence, with limited aspirations, subject to heavy group constraint, and obviously 'going nowhere'? Would they not rejoice in their control over their own destiny, and cheer the conversion of more and more normal cells as convincing proof of the validity of their own way of life? Would they not, in fact, feel increasingly triumphant right up to the moment the organism on which they fed expired?"

Compare that to Hoffer's classic study in "The True Believer":

"The missionary zeal seems rather an expression of some deep misgiving, some pressing feeling of insufficiency at the center. Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we already have. It is a search for a final and irrefutable demonstration that our absolute truth is indeed the one and only truth".

This and the passage above create the idea of religion as a disease, which it is. It is the rate of what the ancient Greeks called Narcissism. Slater calls Narcissism the linear projection of oneself infinitely into the environment.

What creates this "viral" need to spread ourselves to the corners of the earth? I believe it is directly associated to Richard Dawkins' concept of the "genetic replicative algorithm".

The genes make copies. It's what they do, and in order to make copies, they must extend their control over theeir environment as far as possible. The better their efficiency at copying, the less necessity of change.

Religion seems to be the cancerous perversion of that very basic need to replicate, to extend, to proselytize. The religious zealot will cheer the conversion of more and more "cells" until the organism(planet earth) on which he feeds expires.

Purple Hymnal said...

"HOWEVER, OT law as taught in Deuteronomy 24:17 is a parallel to our own "Bills of Attainder" and "ex post facto" laws."

That's because American law can sometimes be absolute batshit right-wing insanity, Ralph. ;-) J/K but in all seriousness, the fact that American law is based on Christian canon, is something to be worried about, and something that IMO should be corrected; not held up as an example of the veracity of the book in question.

"This and the passage above create the idea of religion as a disease, which it is."

Now, this, we agree on. I see religion as retroviral, more than epigenetic, but that's just my take on it.


Ralph said...

Yes, American law is right wing bullshit insanity, especially with the neocons running the Bush Whitehouse. However, as I warned everyone I could find during the last six years of the Bush presidency, "W" was spending money on guns and butter to the extent he replaced the old poster boy of liberal big spending government, LBJ.

Compassionate conservatism is just another aspect of the bullshit ruse of religion to take our liberties away in the form of altruism.

If you study the history of law, Leonard Levy is a good historian to read. His book called "Origins of the Fifth Amendment" won the Pulitzer Prize, and his focus on the "oath ex officio" and the battle against it in England is enlightening.

For example, common law did not require an oath. Canon law, under Pope Innocent III, developed the oath ex officio by which an individual, once sworn to the jurisdiction of the church, could be asked any question and be held guilty, entrapped by his own words. Yet this very process was condemned in the OT scriptures I named above. Jesus himself warned against oaths for any reason, and James said not to swear at all, "lest ye fall into condemnation".

American law cannot compel you to incriminate yourself for any reason, even in traffic court. I learned this quitre by accident when I fought a muffler charge in court. Eager to take the stand, I failed to swear or affirm to tell the truth. neither the judge nor prosecution could compel me to take the oath, because they were forbidden by law. I sat in total silence for about two minutes before the bailiff said, "Uh, Mr Haulk, you didn't take the oath".

The bailiff didn't compel me to take the oath, since that would have been against the law.

In courts today, we are told we can "affirm", but to affirm, under a state constitution that recognizes the sovereeingty of God(they all do) is the same as swearing, thus, in the eyes of the court, is to actually waive your rights.

The presumption of innocence is absolute, going to Isaiah 54:17. This is merely continuede by Paul, when he states that we are "dead to the law" under the death of Jesus.

By "allowing" you to swear or affirm, the court actually scams you into waiving your rights against self incrimination, which the Supreme Court, in "Miranda vs Arizona" footnote 27, admitted actually comes from the bible.

Traffic couretr is inquisitional, which is NOT common law. Inquisitional law is based in canon law and ecclesiastical law. American law is accusatorial, meaning the judge is only an arbiter of procedure, judging the evidence between accuser and accused.

BTW, did you know that when William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo Saxons, he imported a band of Jews to develop civil, criminal and commerce laws? It was Jews who introduced trial by jury, using six christians and six Jews for impartiality. It was Jews who brought forward the Talmudic concept of presumption of innocence.
(Max DiMont, "The Indestructible Jews")

Purple Hymnal said...

Fine, but you're just presenting compelling reasons why we need to get the Christian Bible OUT of the courtrooms and the laws of the land, you're arguing against your main point that all of this being based on the Bible is a good thing; it's not.

Purple Hymnal said...

More on religion-as-disease-model: Eight Percent of human genetic material comes from a virus.

Explain that with a creator behind it, please, Ralph; more than that, who created the creator? As I've been saying, mythologies are good, useful tools, for the entirely-human imagination. Start literalizing those tools, however, and they become toxic religion. JMO

Ralph said...

Purple, I agree that we should get christian ideas out of the courtroom, out of law, etc. But that is exactly the point. Since there is no way of proving or disproving God, or any process of decisions by which we may get to God, then the only possible process of government left open is to advocate the presumption of innocence and non-judgement UNTIL it is shown by the accuser beyond doubt that a crime has occurred. Essentially, that is what the OT law says.

As to religion as disease, I am not attempting to explain a creator who created it. What I am saying is that the same general blueprint extends itself into each level of the environment, from genes and cells to civilizations. Each of them, if they describe a process corresponding to the bible, demonstrate truth by correspondence, therefore making the bible true by evidence.

Notice Paul's definition of faith: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. If I see patterns corresponding to reality, and if results correspond to my observations, then I know that it is true.

Atoms, for example, are not seen, yet we can have faith in those who have done the calculations that there is definitely something behaving like atoms.

If I make a statement about God that corresponds t the evidence, then I can have faith that the book describing that God is correct.

The flaw in such 'faith" however, is that once we select something that worls and makes us feel good, we want to keep it just that way and expand it to others, in order to maintain our control of our environment. As such, it becomes maladaptive and cancerous, and it can only be sustained by the extension of power over others. That's what creates government, which essentially develps from fear, an attempt to avoid change.

A good video to watch on Youtube regarding Epigenetics "Bruce Lipton--The Biology of Perception". Look it up and check it out.

Ralph said...

"Eight percent of human genetic material comes from a virus". Oh yes, of course. This is also mentioned in Dr Moalem's book.

"Their(scientists')first sureprise was that a larger protion of our non coding DNA is made up of jumping genes--as much as half of it. But the bigger surprise was this--those jumping genes look an awful lot like a very special type of virus. You heard that right-- a huge percentage of DNA is related to viruses."

A virus has axcted, from the beginning as a process of information to the genes of bacteria and later to organisms such as human beings. An article in "Discover Magazine" from 2006, titled "Unintelligent design" had much also to say about this. They discovered a very large ancestor of viruses, very complex, called the mimivirus. This said scientists, revealed that this viral beginning was "life's prime mover....Evolution's archvillain looks more and more like its vital and formative force".

As we also see from Howard Bloom's "Global Brain" viruses were used as the genetic "cut and paste" tools of bacteria from the very beginning. That those same viruses, acting as the formative genes of life should not be surprising.

But as Bloom points out, this is not sign of random mutations, as Darwin believed, but rather evidence that there is a process of intelligence at work.