Evolution is an inherent characteristic of the universe. It pervades many phenomena. It happens anywhere where there are many potential strategies, a conflict of interest and the passing on of systems of complex information. When you have an argument with someone, your points become refined and adapted in response to theirs. To continue assertion in the face of challenge, your line must take one of several routes. The message at the end point is different to that at the start.

Evolution needs three things: diversity, competition and inheritance. That is, variation, selection and retention.

Global

Where else do we find it? Evolution may be seen in the economy. Businesses are set up similar to ones that have gone before but modified. Evolution is seen in computing, in networks. A nation’s culture is in evolution. Our legal system is evolving. Technology is evolving. Philosophy is evolving, as is our understanding of ethics. All scholarship experiences the process. Our homes and fashions are evolving. The language we speak and read is evolving. Music, art, literature, film: all evolve. Computers use evolutionary models to make predictions in a host of disciplines, from sociology to biology. The layout of the universe itself is evolving. And of course, life. Living systems are evolving.

The evolution of life appears to be very different from many of the other forms because its steps can be immediately discerned in discrete packages, called organisms. With the evolution of culture or economy, the separate generations of organisms are harder to distinguish, but they are there. The successive stages of a culture or economy, snapshots in time of a plateau between modifications, could be viewed as an analogue to the specific organisms in its family tree. Yet as observers we are more inclined to view this shift as organism adaptation.

Propagation

How after all, do we define one generation of an organism? In biology it is the genome-constructed entity that starts and ends with a single cell. It is the biomass which lies between the initial zygote and the reproductive end-product of that generation, the zygote. The thing that happens between these twin bottlenecks is one organism, be it elephant, apple tree or the entire bee colony. How does this idea about generations correspond to businesses? It is perhaps here that the analogy becomes unnecessary, but a company’s zygote equivalent could be its founder or founding concept.

We need to remember that evolution does not necessarily entail improvement. Its changes can be positive, neutral or negative, although in a competitive environment beneficial alterations will out-compete neutral or harmful alterations, and overall evolution will tend towards improved gene propagation in its current environment.

Down to business

New York Stock Exchange

Organism adaptation may seem a similar process to evolution, but it is the organism itself undergoing change, rather than passing on tiny changes in its genome to the next generation. Businesses adapt to the changing environment (that includes the competition) via the accumulation of small improvements. They don’t generally reproduce, passing their DNA (that is, their policies, defining features or operational instructions) directly to their progeny. It more resembles learning. Children assimilate information from their parents or surroundings and modify their behaviour and thinking as a result. Each new business model or mission statement, or stage in the learning process represents the successive generations of its species.

The key difference is of course that businesses are directly aware of the survival pressures and purposely enact changes in their DNA to try to gain a survival advantage. They act like an animal that could sense its needs for wings and alter its own genetic code to grow them. In reality DNA molecules don’t know the strategic value of their mutations. They can’t predict the outcomes and they can’t direct their changes in a particular direction. In fact, DNA doesn’t actually want to evolve at all. Its structure means it tries to replicate itself as faithfully as possible. Indeed, it has an incredible copying fidelity. Mutations that lead to sharper eyesight or sickle-cell anaemia are accidents, copying errors that are purely random, although this supposedly imperfect tendency to throw up the occasional mutations is as much an in-built characteristic of the DNA molecule as copy-fidelity, and permits evolution to occur. Thankfully for shareholders, the majority of businesses don’t operate through randomness in this manner.

For a business each ‘gene’ may be a specific feature or a particular policy, eg being open 9am-5pm or keeping 30% of the company’s value in liquid assets. If these genes are mutated one way or the other, the effect may benefit the organism or be to its detriment. Like in a living thing, a single gene’s effect is not so important as the overall combination of genes that collectively create a working culture that may increase its market share or not. The bundle of features that form any company is a team, and they must work together effectively if they are to individually prosper.

Gene’s eye view

To view evolution as Dawkins does from a gene’s-eye-view means we track not the fortunes of the specific company organism, but the rise and fall of the myriad individual policies that comprise it. This is a natural thing to do. We can look around and see in the UK that the ‘gene for 9am-5pm opening hours’ has historically been very successful in propagating itself, leaping from organisation to organisation (albeit not predominately through an analogue of sexual reproduction). The recent emergence of the ‘gene for 24-hour opening’ has been prolific, certainly in supermarkets. So we can talk about the practice of 24-hour opening having carved a niche but not being dominant in the gene pool.

These ‘company genes’ benefit from not having to channel themselves down lines of heredity. Self-aware companies are able to see genes they like in competitors or parasites, and copy-paste them directly into their own DNA, much like scientists snipping out from jellyfish DNA the gene for bioluminescence and stitching it into the genome of a mouse ovum. This genetic engineering of policies enables companies to evolve with extreme rapidity. When we talk of businesses adapting or swapping genes, we have all but come to Dawkins’ concept of memes, units of cultural information.

Adaptation

But are we using the word evolution when we really only mean adaptation, or gradual change? Is evolution not a fundamentally different thing in companies or galaxies or art? Isn’t the difference with the evolution of life, as opposed to the development of other systems, that discrete units of information (eg clusters of nucleotides) are passed on from generation to generation? Well, yes. As it happens, evolution in its general sense only means a progressive development. The Latin evolutio means ‘unfolding’ and the process involves a gradual change over time. Life evolution occurs through the relatively unusual mechanism of parents and children.

Parameters

So evolution is an inherent characteristic of the universe. God created the universe with certain parameters and gave it the quality of self-organisation, or evolution. He didn’t create everything we see now in a separate act of special creation. He built it so that it would continue building itself. His sustaining power flows through everything all the time. It’s a pretty ingenious method to construct a universe.

This chimes nicely with how we experience life. We are made but not fully developed. We have been set loose to develop, improve and sanctify ourselves. Evolution is the long shadow of sanctification, just as the Old Testament is the long shadow of the New Testament, and the Kingdom of Israel is the long shadow of the Church. As a theme, life evolution dovetails with spiritual reality too well to be coincidence. We are not yet what we will be.

Each organism is a building site lived in by its owner. Every ecosystem is a city under construction, yet inhabited. There are vestigial organs knocking around the house that were once useful; now not. They have been left at the back of the cupboard or shoved away in the attic, and perhaps one day they will be thrown in a skip or will crumble into dust. They may even one day be rehabilitated into the functions of the household.

The Beginning

How does that square with Genesis chapters 1 and 2? We’re given by the Holy Spirit a schematic semi-poem; ‘In the beginning…’ It describes the early history of the earth and the creation of life up to the Cenozoic (‘recent-life’) era, when humans emerged. The revealed pattern of creation periods corresponds roughly to the discovered pattern of historical era. There is talk of days.

The simplistic interpretation of the seven days –that God literally made everything appear in an instant approximately as it is now- doesn’t fit with what we have discovered about the age of the earth or its processes. It’s actually an interpretation of early twentieth-century origin. All interpretations of Scripture, like all theories of science, should be held lightly, and the Young Earth one is easily discarded. Truth doesn’t grate against truth.

We lose nothing and gain much by interpreting Genesis as a metaphorical image for grand designs. It is a poetic account encapsulating an Old Earth. God’s priority wasn’t to tell us exactly how the universe was made. He gave us brains to develop science to work that out. His priority was to say why. His book had a different theme: that he, the builder was contracting to renovate the planet and the human race after our early management errors had slid out of control. Genesis is more about theology than astronomy.

Awe

Some say Old Earth theory robs God of his power. The reverse is true. The awe and splendour felt in comprehending the immense age of the universe; the delicate, thunderous majesty of the cosmic life cycle; and the sheer bewildering complexity of the strategy by which humanity arose demonstrate how astounding and glorious God really is.

Besides, the theory of the evolution of life isn’t merely a guess. ‘Theory’ in science means the body of principles constructed from empirical data to explain a phenomenon. Biological evolution has colossal explanatory power in the observable universe. The science behind it is strong. It’s really strong. Young Earth theory is a bad ditch to die in. If the evidence leads –overwhelmingly, despite the counter-noise- towards an Old Universe, an adherence to truth demands we follow that way and interpret the Scriptures in light of the best knowledge we have.

That which we call a rose

Harmony

As John Calvin said, centuries before Charles Darwin and Clair Patterson gave him reason, when God speaks to tiny humans he uses ‘baby talk’ to let us all understand. Good parents do this all the time, speaking truths in very simple ways and waiting for their kids to get older to discover the precise mechanisms behind those truths.

God set the universe in motion, formulating the scientific laws necessary for matter to generate life, and for life to generate sentience. In a phrase: God uses evolution to create life. Similarly he uses sanctification to create holiness. This is the Tudor rose of the evolution-creation debate. This is the harmonisation, the alliance, the merging of the two great realms of hard truth in our time. This is the peace treaty and the unification of this tired conflict. This is where creationists and materialists rendez-vous to beat their swords into ploughshares and stand in awe at the freshness, the muscularity, the genius of creation. Praise God.

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