Evolutionary intent

Reductive materialism has its own reasons to reject the possibility that something else may be involved on the macro level besides pure chance. Polanyi observed that

the action of the ordering principle underlying such a persistent creative trend is necessarily overlooked or denied by the theory of natural selection, since it cannot be accounted for in terms of accidental mutation plus natural selection. Its recognition would, indeed, reduce mutation and selection to their proper status of merely releasing and sustaining the action of evolutionary principles by which all major evolutionary achievements are defined. (1958, p.385)

However, too much selection, synchronisation, and amplification of the mutation rate take place to make credible the view that random mutations are the only source of the ever increasing complexity. A number of scholars who do not associate themselves with the creationist account or any religious credo take this view too. Laszlo, for instance, writes:

One would need an almost blind faith in Darwinian theory to believe that chance alone could have produced in the line of birds all the modifications needed to make them high­ performing flying machines... it is hardly credible... that small random mutations and natural selection could have produced a dinosaur from an amoeba. (1993, p.98-99)

Evolution generally goes in the direction of more complex forms. Matter, on the other hand, is normally entropic, predisposed towards simplification, so it is unlikely that complex organisms would have developed if only physical and chemical processes were involved. This is not the only reason to reach a conclusion that evolution is not just a series of accidents. The uniformity of mutation rates may be another example:

The curious equality of mutation rates and evolutionary substitution rates and the just as curious uniformity of protein evolution which have caused end­less discussion over the past twenty years have not proved easy to reconcile with Darwinian explanations. And although in no sense can either of these two phenomena be claimed as evidence for design, they are suggestive of something more in the evolutionary process than purely random mutation. (Denton, 1998, p.383)

A further indication is also that evolution does not happen gradually as one would expect if Darwinism was completely right, but in leaps (rapid transformations) followed by long periods of relative equilibrium. This feature may point at something even more important. Namely, that the concerted intent of species, rather than the Intent, is responsible for evolutionary dynamics. If the Intent were directly involved, one would again expect a steady progress, there would have been no need for periods of stagnation. It is more likely, as already suggested, that the Intent is mainly involved in setting the boundary conditions by streamlining possibilities (in other words, enabling a fair chance), the rest is mostly left to life itself[3]:

If neither natural selection nor any other sort of undirected evolutionary mechanism seem plausible, then could they conceivably have been the result of the activities of life itself operating via some as yet undefined type of inventiveness inherent in all life?... even if much of the overall order of organic nature was determined from the beginning, it is surely conceivable that the Creator... could have gifted organisms not only with the capacity for growth, reproduction, inheritance and variability, but also with a limited degree of genuine autonomous creativity so that the world of life might reflect and mirror in some small measure the creativity of God. (ibid., p.364)

This implies that new species do not come from nowhere, there is no ‘invisible hand' that creates them. The difference between the Creationist and this view can be compared to seeing the universal agency as an engineer or artist who makes a tree, or as a gardener who provides the right conditions for a tree to grow (and pruning it if and when necessary). A number of scientists have by now come to the conclusion that life must harbour some fundamental order-generated tendency:

Already in mid [20th] century Hermann Weyl noted that because each of the molecules on which life is based consists of something like a million atoms, the number of possible atomic combinations is astronomical. On the other hand the number of combinations that could create viable genes is relatively limited. Thus the probability that such combinations would occur through random processes is negligible. A more likely solution, said Weyl, is that some sort of selective process has been taking place, probing different possibilities and gradually groping its way from simple to complex structures. (Laszlo, 1993, p.91-92)

Philosopher Henry Bergson argued for the existence of a unique vital impulse that is continually developing, implying that evolution was creative rather than mechanistic. He named this impulse élan vital (life force). Many traditions hold the same basic view. Hindus call the life force prana, Polynesians mana, Iroquois orenda, while in Islam it is called baraka. For the ancient Egyptians the world was permeated by sa, in China they use the term Ch'I. The notion of life force is discredited by its misuse in popular culture and dismissed by most scientists because it cannot be found. This should not be a problem in itself though; as already mentioned, gravitation cannot be directly found either. The effects of gravitation and other fields, however, can be easily measured, while the effects of evolutionary intent (that is a manifestation of life force) can be detected only over long periods. Nevertheless, the fact that evolution goes in the direction of increased complexity cannot be ignored, and this factor has potentially a greater explanatory power than blind chance or God the watchmaker. So, what is this life force? The suggestion here is that it is an intent of life to maximise existence and agency, which are the innate and irreducible drives embedded in every species.

Existence is manifested in a tendency to live, adapt and proliferate that can be called ‘drive to survive' or ‘survival intent' evident in all living organisms, but not in any inanimate objects. Biologists assume ‘survival instinct' but do not explain it, because it has to be causally prior even to genes. Otherwise, why would genes ‘want' to survive, maintain their complex dynamic structure as well as that of the system they belong to - the cell? Genes determine how organisms reproduce, but not why they reproduce in the first place. It is proposed that the energy intends to remain focused (which is a prerequisite of life). What helps in this respect, at least in the material world, are physical bodies. So, to realise itself, the non-material component forces the material one to fill in any gap that is available (like water that fills in any crack on its way),  which is why there is such a huge variety of living organisms. As Denton puts it, ‘the enormous diversity of the pattern of life on earth may not represent a full plenitude of all life forms, but it appears to approach closely this ideal.' (1998, p.383)

The agency, on the other hand, is not only manifested in the tendency (which does not need to be fully conscious) to exercise freedom or choice as suggested above, but also to increase it. Harman proposes that there is a ‘sort of teleological "pull" in the evolutionary process, of evolution towards increased awareness, complexity, freedom - in short, of evolution going somewhere (not in a predetermined sense, but in the sense of preferred direction)' (1998, p.49). This pull that is the driving force behind the leaps in complexity could be called evolutionary intent. It leads to further differentiation and fragmentation into more complex units (with their own self, awareness and intent), enabling individualisation of energy. Non-material energy though, can be self-actualised only through matter, so there is a general trend to push matter in the direction of more complex and integrated structures, which results in biological evolution. This could explain the anti-entropic trend of organisms.

However, evolutionary intent is weak, and needs to accumulate before producing any result, which is why the process appears punctuated. This can be compared with generating a new idea. It may seem as if the idea has come suddenly, out of nowhere, but this is not the case. The person has probably been focusing on the problem for a while. This is the process of incubation, the accumulation of intent, which eventually enables the idea to break through. So, new ideas are neither the gifts of muses nor a random process. The appearance of new species may be similar[4]. Organisms can live for long periods in a relative equilibrium that can produce some adaptive changes within species, but does not spawn different and more complex ones. The much stronger material side is essentially inertive and resists the change. The build-up of intent (usually at the ecological peripheries) is necessary in order to overcome this resistance of the existing equilibrium. This is a very slow process considering how weak evolutionary intent is. Environmental conditions, of course, also need to be right. However, although natural disasters may in some cases facilitate a change, they are not necessary. When intent sufficiently accumulates, the matter gives in, and some species undergo a number of simultaneous mutations in a relatively short period of time.

It is possible that on the non-material level there are connections between the organisms within a species (the more primitive, the more connections) and some between different species. So, individual intents may add up to the collective intent of species and these intents, in turn, may add up to the ‘global' intent, which (especially at the early stages of evolution) converges with the Intent, and can influence biological evolution. Denton indicates how this can be translated to the biological sphere:

...the genomes of nearly all organisms contain so-called gene families, which consist of multiple identical copies of the same gene. Surprisingly, these copies are often identical not only within the genome of one individual but in the genomes of all the individuals in the species. A variety of genetic mechanisms have been identified which act to maintain the sequential identity between all the copies of the same gene in any one species. In the early eighties Cambridge geneticist Gabriel Dover suggested that the integrated effect of these various internal mechanisms is potentially capable of causing synchronous genetic changes in all the members of a population. He termed the effect ‘molecular drive'. It is relatively easy to envisage how such processes could be utilized... to bring about cohesive directional mutational change during evolution. (1998, p.281)

  • [3]. This is, however, not straightforward. For example, oxygen was a by-product of the metabolism of simple organisms that dominated the biosphere for a long while. When the oxygen production had enabled the development of more complex organisms, these simple ones vanished. It is hard to avoid the sense of a subtle background influence of the Intent in some instances (perhaps a demise of dinosaurs is also such an instance, but it will never be possible to prove it).
  • [4]. Comparable ‘jumps' happen in the atomic world and also individual and social development. Relatively long periods of an accumulation of energy (an increase of pressure) lead suddenly to the leap of an electron, personal change in an individual, or a paradigm shift (in science, culture, or religion).