Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression that are not caused by internal changes in DNA. In other words, non-genetic factors cause genes to express themselves differently.
Given its findings, my question becomes: does the discovery of non-genetic factors allow causality to play a role in explaining evolution and, therefore, the increasing complexity of life?
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck , French naturalist, biologist, and academic, believed in a teleological (goal-oriented) process where organisms continued toward a goal as evolution progressed. As a materialist, he held that these forces originate from underlying physical principles.
To be sure, the question of an end goal or purpose in the universe remains unanswered. Theists would claim there is a goal and it is created and directed by an intelligent agent at work in the universe. This claim is central to the theory of intelligent design. Which I do not advocate or dispute.
The current debate between non-causal, neo-Darwinian evolution and causal intelligent design misses my key argument, which really should be the focus of the controversy. If we eliminate creationism from serious consideration and concentrate on the question—is evolution teleological or not?—we are in the right neighborhood.
In other words, does evolution progress purely from accidental mutations as they provide advantages, once again, purely by accident? Or is there a purpose in the universe that shapes evolution in a particular direction?
I suspect the latter to be correct. Purpose is pivotal in the context of my arguments. So, with or without a creator, I subscribe to teleological evolution and remain agnostic on its source. What I mean is, what theists credit to the supernatural, I believe is actually part of the natural world.
I’m suggesting evolution might be an ongoing process following its own natural logic moving in a direction we are not capable of understanding. We are a part of this creation. We are created by and co-creating the universe, in turn. If we step back from the heat of the controversy we have Rev. William O’Malley, S.J, thoughts to consider: “One is stuck with a choice between a nearly infinite succession of fortunate accidents or a completely infinite purposeful creator. The same holds true for the evident evolutionary progression from inanimate to vegetative to animate to intelligent beings. All the evidence seems to point to a developing complexity in life that seems purposeful, finally arriving at beings who are self aware.”
O’Malley’s quote gives us a space between fortunate accidents and a purposeful creator. By delineating this space, O’Malley allows what we are beginning to discover in our study of the quantum, or fundamental, level of the cosmos.
We and the universe, as we know it, are in a process of co-creation. This co-creation suggests to me a teleological universe and explains biological and intellectual evolution.
It is not difficult to see as we have evolved biologically, we have also evolved intellectually. Together these two factors have brought us from tribes of proto-humans in the jungle to modern societies unimagined just two hundred years ago. Our intellectual evolution has allowed us to explore wonders of our universe we hardly imagined a mere century ago. To O’Malley’s point, is it just an accident that we are evolving in this direction?
The most recent wonder is we are exploring the essence of our universe and in doing so can begin to understand ourselves as intertwined with it more than we ever imagined. This discovery of the quantum level has opened new vistas for exploration, especially our subjective-objective circularity with the universe. Specifically, we know as we interact with the quantum level of the universe, we cause the outcomes for which we look.
According to this interpretation of quantum theory, we create our world by our observations. In other words, there is debatably no reality in the absence of observation. To qualify that statement, there are other unidentified factors that we don’t yet understand, but we do know scientifically the observer influences the results of the observation in scientific experiments, i.e. we find what we look for.
Think about this startling awareness this way; the distinct solid objects we see at the classical level melt into an undivided wholeness as we peer into the quantum coherency. We de-cohere those objects by our observations. At the quantum level everything is of one piece, including us. Once again I am reminded, we are connected, whole and complete.
Now to me, that’s spiritual.