(Renowned British biologist, Physiology and Genetics, University of Oxford, creator of the first viable 3-D model of the human heart, Fellow of the Royal Society, published over 600 academic papers)
(Engineer, business consultant, author of eight books including best sellers on social media analytics and internet advertising, and of Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design; founder of the largest competition award in basic science history, The Evolution 2.0 Prize)
Q: What are the headlines in this release and what news comes from your recently published scientific papers?
A: Denis: That we are not stuck with whatever genes we inherited from our parents! Mainstream science has saddled us for decades with “genetic fatalism” – but that’s no longer accurate. We now have proof, both in molecules and in hard maths – that life including cells and genes uses active systems to adapt. This has far, far reaching implications in diseases especially cancer, a war on which we are still failing. We need to tap into this powerful new knowledge.
A: Perry: Our knowledge of epigenetics (external forces that change how our genes express themselves) shows us that evolution is exponentially more complex than we ever used to believe but it also shows us that evolution can happen very rapidly. It shows us that what we eat, and drink, our habits, our exercise, all have some immediate effect on our offspring. So, it puts even greater responsibility in our hands.
Q: Are you saying we’ve got an understanding of how evolution works that’s wrong?
A: Denis: It’s incomplete and it’s outdated – today’s evolution textbooks are without question holding back cancer and disease research, because they say next to nothing about the active mechanisms life uses to adapt. Textbooks teach evolution (the theory of the Modern Synthesis), smuggle in a built-in “war against nature” mindset – a competition for survival which pits us against the environment and all of nature. In truth, real nature is far more cooperative than competitive – and can show us a way around disease catastrophe, environmental catastrophe.
A: Perry: Yes, mainstream science still leads us to believe cancer cells evolve randomly, accidentally. Now we know – though not nearly enough practicing oncologists yet know – chemotherapy often shifts Stage 3 and 4 cancers into hyperdrive, making an already difficult war impossible. Tumors can go from 1 to 1000 species in mere weeks. What if we knew how to negotiate this knowledge and factor it into a new way to treat cancer?
Q: You believe there has been a tipping point, thanks to the recent publication of several important papers, correct?
A: Perry: Yes, there is important new work that offers concrete proof our teaching of evolution is severely outdated and inaccurate. Two recent ones jump out:
· The first is the paper Denis published in March, The Illusions of the Modern Synthesis. It’s extraordinarily detailed and thorough about what needs amending.
· The second is a newly released paper co-authored by Denis and legendary University of Chicago molecular biologist James Shapiro: What Prevents Mainstream Evolutionists Teaching the Whole Truth About How Genomes Evolve? They spectacularly lay out the case for moving away from versions of Modern Synthesis based entirely on incorporating major discoveries in genomics and molecular biology that undermine it and are incompatible with its restrictive definition – in fact they cite 40 important discoveries almost all of which are inexplicably left out of mainstream textbooks.
Any number of headlines flow from looking at this holistically:
· “70 scientists announce: Evolution textbooks due for major upgrades”
· “Re-Discovery of Charles Darwin’s crystal ball turns genetics, cancer and evolution upside down”
· “We are not hostages to our genes”
· “Peer-Reviewed Study of Current Evolution Textbooks Shows Most Neglect to Mention 80% of Landmark Discoveries”
· “The real Charles Darwin saw far into the 21st century even as his strongest advocates clung to the 19th”
These are all fascinating angles that should create huge momentum and desire for updating our classrooms!
Q: The two of you are prominent voices in a growing movement to redefine the evolution model. What specific changes should textbooks now reflect?
A: Denis: Many crucial insights by Charles Darwin were censored from theories of evolution, much of it because Darwin lacked the language in 1859 to describe the dynamic ability living organisms have to evolve, both slowly and rapidly, its own new solutions. Shortly after his death, evolutionary theory suffered major setbacks that have lasted for generations. The term “natural selection” has been misunderstood to mean a slow, passive, accidental or random reduction of certain characteristics.
A: Perry: This is a disempowering, hopeless view of nature and health. But many of us want to communicate and promote the excitement and progress that comes with fully embracing active, not passive, evolution. We now know, smoking women pass asthma to their daughters and granddaughters; athletes transform their own genes.
Q: The American Association of Cancer Research recently formed a new working group bringing together experts from evolutionary biology and cancer, thanks to your recent symposium which applied principles of cellular intention to how cancer progresses. You both helped found this new group and have been on a mission to move our understanding of evolution forward. Talk about what’s been happening in this regard and why you believe you and your peers are finally gaining momentum?
A: Denis: One year ago, the two of us and a colleague from Oxford sat down in front of Downe House, Charles Darwin’s ancestral home in Kent, and filmed a provocative discussion about the real Darwin and the truth about his real discoveries which have sadly become lost over time. These findings, which we go over in detail, may surprise many scientists and science aficionados – and are both essential and greatly underrated.
A: Perry: Our video provides a roadmap of where history went wrong, a more accurate accounting of evolution, and highlights the important difference these findings make. And crucially, we point out that the latest discoveries in molecular biology, including the burgeoning field of epigenetics, was born in the minds of Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamark. They are vindicated.
Q: Perry, how does an electrical engineer, best-selling author of social media analytics practices, and consultant to start-ups find himself working with world-famous scientists all over the world like Denis to rewrite the history of evolution and crowdsource theories on the Origin of Life?
A: Perry: Though I came from a deeply religious upbringing, I realized evolution could be studied as a software engineering problem. Essentially, you could approach it as a computing program where codes are rewritten, because they aren’t random.
The conclusion is inescapable: Progress is driven by adaptive mutations – modular re-engineering of genes and chromosomes – not by random copying errors. There is no case for randomness being the driver of evolution. Evolution 2.0 professes: change is not slow but fast; it’s not accidental, it’s organized; it’s not purposeless, it’s adaptive; and natural selection is not the star of the show, nature’s own genetic engineering is.
Evolution is far more than survival of the fittest — evolution is cooperation. Cells cooperate to rearrange DNA according to precise rules; they exchange DNA with other cells; they communicate with each other and edit their own genomes with incredibly sophisticated language; they switch code on and off for themselves and their descendants and offspring; they merge and cooperate to produce winners.
Q: Why have we been taught something else? Is there still a case to be made for the evolution theories believed for the last 80 years?
A: Denis: There just is no case for simple randomness. The time has come to stop the theft of our modern, valuable knowledge. It’s a crime against science and humanity that this is going on. Randomness is involved, but cells harness randomness for their own purposes – just as a poker player works with the hand he’s dealt.
Fortunately, more and more scientists have come around to a “Third Way” of understanding how cells exercise intelligence and purpose – neither “Intelligent Design” as commonly understood, nor random accident. I, along with dozens of the world’s most notable genetic experts, formed an association (The Third Way of Evolution) solely to move past outdated teaching.
Q: What’s wrong with teaching Darwinism or even neo-Darwism? Where specifically does it break down?
A: Perry: Nearly every biology book teaches that mutations are random with no plan, no purpose behind the changes. But what are the odds that random errors produce things as magnificent and purposeful as, say an eye? Or a chloroplast?
Progress is driven by adaptive mutations – modular re-engineering of genes and chromosomes – not by random copying errors. If you really stop and consider the neo-Darwinian theory we’ve been teaching, that evolution is fueled by accidental physical damage to DNA, that’s like saying if you keep making copies of scratched CDs, Sinatra’s “New York New York” will eventually transform into U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” It’s not possible. Neo-Darwinism insists copying errors will occasionally be beneficial and through natural selection will dominate. But what we know now is, the reverse is true. Copying errors are virtually never beneficial; and cells have extraordinary tools for preventing them. We now know real-world evolutionary adaptations are engineered by the cell.
A: Denis: The Modern Synthesis (or Neo Darwinism) has been accepted in biology for 80 years, yet its based on 4 key interpretations that recent discoveries in molecular science prove are illusions. Modern biology now undermines the Modern Synthesis. But we continue to perpetuate knowledge we now know is inaccurate.
Q: What are the 4 commonly accepted interpretations you say are illusions?
A: Denis: One, Darwin proposed two senses of selection. The first is literal: the social choice by an organism, e.g. humans selecting for new varieties of plant or animal species, or a peahen choosing to mate with an impressively displaying peacock. The second is metaphorical: the natural process of life and death, according to how well individuals fit their environment. It is an illusion to say that the second is selection. It is a filter, a blind winnowing process. Orthodox evolutionary biology says that only the second occurs.
Two, Darwin also proposed a mechanism for the inheritance of acquired characteristics, which was that tiny particles convey some characteristics to the future egg and sperm, which he called gemmules. Orthodox theory says that would be impossible because there is a barrier to prevent it from happening. Modern science has now found Darwin’s gemmules, tiny vesicles containing RNAs and DNA. The Barrier was an illusion.
Three, Orthodox theory says that DNA replicates “like a crystal”. It doesn’t. It requires the living organism to replicate. There is no separation between the replicator and the vehicle, which invalidates the theory of The Selfish Gene.
Q: Didn’t science attempt to address these problems with what’s called “Extended Modern Synthesis?” Why isn’t that adequate?
A: Perry: The Extended thesis was a great step forward ten years ago. We now know that orthodox theories have been invalidated by subsequent research. The old theory is beyond hope of repair. It needs to be replaced.
Q: You say there is a “new” truth that’s not really even “new” – that Darwin’s predecessor, Lamarck, discovered a key truth 30 years earlier than Darwin, but never got the credit.
A: Perry: Yes, thanks to the Human Genome Project, we can easily sequence DNA and what we see is wholesale re-arrangements of the genome in times of stress. A protozoan in duress can rearrange 100,000 pieces of its DNA in hours. It’s time to replace randomness with highly-coordinated goal seeking mechanisms. This is what’s known as epigenetics – acquired characteristics can be passed to offspring. Lamarck was way ahead of his time in recognizing this. Not only was this ignored, he has been lambasted in textbooks for 200 years for proposing it. Modern epigenetics proves he was right all along.
In our ”Voices From Oxford” video Denis referenced earlier, Denis tells of a paper he just published showing how Lamarck died a pauper, buried in a lime pit, and denounced at his own funeral. But it turns out Lamarck had drawn a tree of life 28 years before Darwin did, and Lamarck’s (shown to the right) was more detailed than Darwin’s (below Lamarck’s).
All this is documented in a peer reviewed paper Denis wrote in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology.
Q: Is any prominent researcher or scientific body that supports moving away from randomness and towards cellular purpose and agency?
A: Perry: Notable figures in cellular biology and genetic research, like Eugene Koonin at NIH, Oncologist Azra Raza at Colombia, Michael Levin at Tufts University, Frank Laukien, and George Church at Harvard, to name just a few. And now dozens of like-minded experts formed the Cancer & Evolution working group within the American Association of Cancer Research.
The AACR is the oldest, largest, most prestigious cancer organization, so that is wonderful validation of where the application of modern evolutionary theories are starting to be applied.
Q: What would you call this updated, more complete body of knowledge that incorporates the latest molecular and genetic discoveries into our understanding of how living organisms evolve?
A: Perry: We need new language…maybe it’s “Darwin 2.0” which could be defined as: The organism actively participates in its own evolution.
Q: So where do you begin to re-educate? Is there still a lot of resistance and if so, how do you turn the tide and build consensus around a new paradigm for evolution?
A: Perry: One of the thorns in the side of evolutionary theory is that creationists and intelligent design advocates correctly criticized the assertion that billions of years of random accidents, combined with natural selection, would result in the dizzying array of life today as we know it. Random accidents could never achieve that, as any engineer knows. So this has fostered a climate of hostility and distrust of the science community. Not only that, it paints a picture of a purposeless, meaningless universe. This does not line up with most peoples’ beliefs or lived experience. Because there’s been real momentum advocating for this third way, it’s enabled me to assemble top researchers in an investor funded initiative offering $10 million to the first team to uncover how cells got and communicate code. We call it the Evolution 2.0 Prize.
Once you recognize this, you can lay down your weapons because we’re no longer offering a theory of random accidents. We’re acknowledging that we have only barely begun to understand the machinery of life.
This is why we need a “De-Militarized Zone…and recognize that both Darwin and Lamarck were far more correct than 20th century scientists ever gave them credit for.
Today, with the advent of CRISPR, we can edit genes as easily as a blog post and those who assume a random, purposeless process got us to where we are today are poised to make devastating mistakes.
Our knowledge of epigenetics shows us that evolution is exponentially more complex than we ever used to believe but it also shows us that evolution can happen very rapidly. It shows us that what we eat, and drink, our habits, our exercise, all have some immediate effect on our offspring. So it puts even greater responsibility in our hands.
The evolution scene is riven by factions and blood matches. But what I found in exploring this subject for 15 years is, there is no faction in this debate that does not have something useful to say. Some of my best colleagues in this business are world class scientists, yet I gleaned useful insights from camps that are normally excluded from this conversation. And by that I don’t just mean design advocates, but also engineers, coders and medical professionals, virologists and cancer researchers. Disciplines need to talk to each other and have much to learn from one another.
As British medical scientist (in a department of gynecology) Ray Noble said, “Evolution is too important to be left to evolutionary biologists.”
Q: Once we begin to change the way we educate, it still doesn’t solve the mystery of where life came from to begin with. Speak about that.
A: Perry: Correct. And we need to understand how life began – how we got from chemicals to code. It’s extraordinary we still don’t have answers to the greatest mystery in all of science.
Many scientists assume that the origin of life is a problem; evolution is a separate problem; and questions like consciousness and self awareness are yet another problem. I say they are all the same problem. That problem is the question of agency – what does a living being with the ability to act on its own behalf consist of?
Cells correct code, but where did they get it to begin with? How do you get from non-living to living? Is there such a thing as a natural occurring code? Cells make decisions as members of a superbly organized army…what does a cell know about itself? Barbara McClintock asked that question in her 1984 Nobel Prize paper.
If we replace notions of “randomness” with highly-coordinated and goal-seeking mechanisms can we imagine how that would change every sector of medicine, technology, climate, etc. Nothing we presently know in pure physics or chemistry explains the origin of cellular capabilities. We don’t know how cells make choices. And if we don’t simply chalk it up to a Designer – God – and assume it’s an eternal mystery, then it is clear the universe possesses directional qualities nobody yet comprehends.
Q: How do most of origin of life researchers answer the ultimate question?
A: Perry: Origin of life field is characterized by much speculation and, in some cases, little solid evidence. There is not a great deal we can say about life’s origin that properly qualifies as science. The field is in its infancy. This is nothing less than a search for a new law of physics. Codes are not matter nor energy, codes are information. So where did the information come from? Because there’s been real momentum advocating for new answers, it’s enabled me to assemble top researchers and major investors in an initiative offering $10 million to the first team to uncover how cells got and communicate code via the Evolution 2.0 Prize.
Q: Talk about the consequences….you make the case, a post-Darwinian paradigm holds exciting possibilities for medicine, cancer, research, software, search engines, storage, data transmission and relationship between man and machine.
A: Perry: This is where it’s most exciting. There’s direct application to our lives, our economies, our innovation. Since cancer is evolution run amok by highly resourceful cancer cells, we might actually develop a cure if we precisely understood cancer’s evolution. If we understood how to better guide cellular communication, we could make our cells repair DNA damage and improve longevity or regrow limbs or regenerate organs. If we had the keys to cellular communication, we could actually endow machines with their own network of intelligence, self-awareness and will.
The consequences of holding on to outdated Darwinian thinking, as one example, is, for 30 years it labeled so much of our DNA as “junk.” The “Junk DNA theory,” now discredited, vandalized science for 30 years. The same mindset likewise defines cancer cell activity as “random.” Well, you can’t predict random behaviors, so if cancer’s next move is “random,” the problem is unsolvable. That’s not exactly helpful in the pursuit of cancer treatments. Active mutations of cancer cells are NOT random, they are calculated responses to your body’s immune system, and to medical therapy.
Q: You say that same thinking should be applied to preserving the Earth. What do you mean?
A: Perry: Yes, because science always presumes underlying order and structure. Our bodies are the triumph of millions of years of stunning genetic innovations, mergers and partnerships. The world is what it is because of the ingenious systems and innovations. Not randomness. Not luck. Humans have been destroying the Earth (rainforests, oceans, our air) but cells rebuild it. Cells are smarter than humans. We need to understand what our own cells know if we want to help the planet.
Q: In conclusion, what is it you want everyone to know – what are the takeaways?
A: Perry: Proper understanding of Evolution 2.0 and Darwin 2.0 will open the door to innumerable breakthroughs in medicine, technology and beyond. There is growing consensus around this because more scientists and scholars than ever before are deeply dissatisfied with the Darwinian status quo. Its days are numbered and these new models of evolution will bear little resemblance to what our parents grew up believing. We should insist on getting the answers about the Origin of Life with empirical facts, be a friend of the “smart cell,” counter the pseudoscience of randomness. And let’s bring in the reformers.