Evolution and me (a summary)
by George Gilder
At its root, Darwinian theory is tautological. What survives is fit; what is fit survives. As an all-purpose tool of reductionism that said that whatever survives is, in some way, normative, Darwinism could inspire almost any modern movement, from the eugenic furies of Nazism to the feminist crusades of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood.
Turning to economics in researching my 1981 book Wealth & Poverty, I incurred new disappointments in Darwin and materialism. Forget God — economic science largely denies intelligent design or creation even by human beings. Depicting the entrepreneur as a mere opportunity scout, arbitrageur, or assembler of available chemical elements, economic theory left no room for the invention of radically new goods and services, and little room for economic expansion except by material “capital accumulation” or population growth. Accepted widely were Darwinian visions of capitalism as a dog-eat-dog zero-sum struggle impelled by greed, where the winners consume the losers and the best that can be expected for the poor is some trickle down of crumbs from the jaws (or tax tables) of the rich.
[Then I went to Information Theory which] explained digital computation and transmission by zero-one, or off-on, codes called “bits.” Shannon defined information as unexpected bits, or “news,” and calculated its passage over a “channel” by elaborate logarithmic rules. That channel could be a wire or another other path across a distance of space, or it could be a transfer of information across a span of time, as in evolution.
Crucial in information theory was the separation of content from conduit — information from the vehicle that transports it. Turing made clear that the essence of a computer is not its material substance but its architecture of ideas.
I came to see that the computer offers an insuperable obstacle to Darwinian materialism. In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. No possible knowledge of the computer’s materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations. Information is defined by its independence from physical determination: If it is determined, it is predictable and thus by definition not information. Yet Darwinian science seemed to be reducing all nature to material causes. In all the sciences I studied, information comes first, and regulates the flesh and the world, not the other way around.
DNA bears messages but its chemistry is irrelevant to its content. The alphabet’s nucleotide “bases” form “words” without help from their bonds with the helical sugar-phosphate backbone that frames them. This reality expresses a key insight of Francis Crick —the Central Dogma— that “influence can flow from the arrangement of the nucleotides on the DNA molecule to the arrangement of amino acids in proteins, but not from proteins to DNA”. Like a sheet of paper DNA is a neutral carrier of information, independent of its chemistry and physics. By asserting that the DNA message precedes and regulates the form of the proteins, and that proteins cannot specify a DNA program, Crick’s Central Dogma unintentionally recapitulates St. John’s assertion of the primacy of the word over the flesh.
By assuming that inheritance is a chemical process, Darwin ran afoul of the Central Dogma. He believed that the process of inheritance “blended” together the chemical inputs of the parents. Seven years after Darwin published The Origin of Species, though, Gregor Mendel showed that genes do not blend together like chemicals mixing. Each unit of biological information is passed on according to a digital program — a biological code — that is transcribed and translated into amino acids.
Upholding the inheritability of acquired characteristics, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck espoused the primacy of proteins and thus of the environment over the genetic endowment. By controlling the existing material of human beings through their environment, the Lamarckians believed that Communism could blend and breed a new Soviet man through chemistry.
At the beginning of the 21st century it turns out that the biological cell is not a “simple lump of protoplasm” as long believed but a microcosmic processor of information and synthesizer of proteins at supercomputer speeds.