As a biologist and working scientist for 50 years, I have finally come to the realization that reproductive success is not the driver for evolution…..it’s an epiphenomenon. Thankfully, Darwin’s contribution to humanity extricated us from “The Great Chain of Being.” The metaphors of his theory of evolution (‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘natural selection’) however, are not conducive to scientific testing and as a result, there is still no experimental evidence to support the reality of these evolutionary processes. I argue, that the process of evolution is instead based on epigenetic inheritance, which stems directly from the environment, and not just an arbitrary environment, but the niches we personally construct, like beavers building dams, worms conditioning the soil around them to accommodate their water-adapted kidneys, or humans building cities and cultural environments, referred to as Niche Construction Theory.
It is within those ecologic niches that environmental change is monitored over the course of the organism’s life cycle, incorporated into germ cells as epigenetic marks, either maintaining equipoise or ‘evolving’ accordingly due to sorting of the epigenetic marks during meiosis, embryogenesis, and over the course of the life cycle (The Cell as the First Niche Construction. Torday JS.Biology (Basel). 2016 Apr 28;5(2)). That process refers all the way back to the first eukaryotic cell, based on the First Principles of Physiology. The construction of that protocell, distinguishing external from internal (Claude Bernard) niche conferred both Free Will and Determinism on life as the origin of morality (Torday and Rehan. Evolutionary Biology, Cell-Cell Communication and Complex Disease. Wiley, 2012; Evolution, the Logic of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell, 2017).
In an earlier essay published in the Center’s Minding Nature journal, entitled “Man is Integral with Nature” (https://www.humansandnature.org/man-is-integral-with-nature-article-198.php), William Miller and I made the case for the intimate relationship between physics and biology, annealed by the formation of the first cell from the lipids delivered by snowball-like asteroids during the early history of the planet. Briefly, lipids will spontaneously form primitive ‘cells’, or micelles, in water. Such semi-permeable membrane-bound spheres can generate bioenergy and reduce the entropy, or order, within them, referred to as negentropy (Schrodinger, What is Life?, 1944), controlled by homeostasis. That founding relationship, based on the First Principles of Physiology allows biology to circumvent the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That Faustian pact affords us the Free Will to test those constraints, but the aforementioned physiologic principles of life are determined. We live between those two boundary conditions, which we refer to as morality.