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Areas of Research in Universal Darwinism

Universal Darwinism provides scientific explanations for design; wherever it is found in the universe. The explanation provided by Universal Darwinism is the same in all arenas: the process or algorithm of evolution first posited by Charles Darwin.

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection explains the evolution of life forms.  As he demonstrated, biological evolution is an algorithmic process. This means anything meeting a simple set of conditions will evolve in a manner similar to life. These conditions are:

1)      Reproduction; the ability to make copies and thereby increase population size.

2)     Heredity; the ability to pass traits to copies. This is inherent in the usual meaning of the word ‘copy’ and may be redundant and unnecessary as a separate condition.

3)     Variation; differences in heritable traits that affect "Fitness” or the ability to survive and reproduce leading to differential survival. Differential survival means that not all copies have the same ability to  survive, often as a result of limited resource in the environment required to maintain the copies. Those best able to access and harness the environmental resources will preferentially survive and make copies.

 Natural Selection is based on the differential survivability of inherited characteristics. Each generation inherits characteristics from their parents and in each generation there is some random variation in these characteristics. Some variations will bestow greater reproductive success on their bearers than will others. The individuals possessing adaptations or variations bestowing greater reproductive success will propagate more offspring; offspring tending to have these parental characteristics as well as exhibiting some variations of their own. In this manner each generation tends to accumulate adaptations that bestow reproductive success.

 The Darwinian algorithm will produce evolution in any system conforming to these three simple conditions. The direction in which the system evolves is determined by which variations bestow survival. In other words the individuals in the system will become better at surviving and will accumulate adaptations that assist their survival. What those adaptations are is hard to predict and depends heavily on the environment in which the system is evolving.

The Darwinian algorithm, supported by a compelling body of scientific evidence,  destroyed the argument from design in the biological realm. Prior to Darwin this argument was the predominant one, accepted by the majority of educated people, as the explanation for the existence of all design in the universe. The most forceful version of this argument was given by Reverend Paley. He argued that if we were to find a pocket watch in the woods and were to examine it, it would be clear that it must have been created by a watch maker. Nothing so intricately designed could be created by accident and its very existence was proof of a watch maker, a creator. So too, the natural world exhibits exquisite design which therefore proves the existence of a creator of the natural world; God.

It is puzzling why this argument could be considered compelling as it has obvious deep flaws. That there are well designed life forms is evidence of the existence of a means of producing biological design. That God is that means of producing design, specifically the Christian God described in the bible, is a huge and totally unsupported leap. Darwin destroyed this argument by discovering the actual means by which design is accomplished in the biological world.

As Darwin's explanation came to be widely accepted, the argument for the existence of God from design, retreated from the biological arena but was still championed in areas such as cosmology or studies of the human mind where scientific explanations were undeveloped. This situation came to be known as the 'God of the Gaps', referring to the retreat of God the creator to those areas of design where scientific explanation were unavailable.

As we now know, science is a tireless Darwinian process for evolving explanations approaching truth. Since Darwin's work, particularly in the past thirty years, science has closed all gaps in its ability to explain design by Darwinian processes. There are plausible evolving theories and bodies of evidence in all arenas where we see design: cosmology, human psychology and culture as well as in biology.

Daniel Dennet has likened Darwin's Idea to a universal acid that dissolves our myths about creation of design:

Darwin's idea had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened to leak out, offering answers- welcome or not- to questions in cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the other direction). If redesign could be a mindless, algorithmic process of evolution, why couldn't that whole process itself be the product of evolution, and so forth, all the way down? And if mindless evolution could account for the breathtakingly clever artefacts of the biosphere, how could the products of our own 'real' minds be exempt from an evolutionary explanation? Darwin's idea thus also threatened to spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own divine spark of creativity and understanding.

Much of the controversy and anxiety that has enveloped Darwin's idea ever since can be understood as a series of failed campaigns in the struggle to contain Darwin's idea within some acceptably 'safe' and merely partial revolution.

Universal Darwinism consists of the claim that the revolution is complete, that Darwin's Idea explains all design.