Catastrophic Intelligent Design
Catastrophic Intelligent Design (CID) theory integrates Intelligent Design (ID) theory with Darwinism. It does so by positing that Earth’s biosphere occasionally evolves “designer species” - i.e. intelligent animals who redesign the planetary genome by technological means.
According to CID theory, such species invariably cause ecological catastrophe, culminating in a mass extinction, followed by a vibrant ecological rebound. The rebound is due in part to the designer species’ genetic redesign work, but also in part due to the opportunism of surviving ‘pest’ species.
CID theory posits that all designer species soon confront an impossible dilemma; namely, shall they redesign themselves, or not? Either option yields either extinction or exile into outer space. This all happens in historical, not geological, time; therefore the lack of designer species fossils, aside from mass extinctions and designed genes.
Thus, in CID theory, intelligence is to the planet as fire is to the forest; a recurrent catastrophe that paradoxically strengthens the ecosystem by eliminating the weak. We can also draw an economic analogy: designer species are to the Darwinian ecology as monopolies are to the free market; i.e. ambitious manipulators who transform the technology, steal resources, extinguish competition, subvert the system, and vanish in the resulting collapse.
CID theory identifies the 5 known mass extinctions (and the sixth now in progress) as markers of 5 extinct (and one extant) designer species. Therefore the Drake equation, which predicts the number of technological civilizations now alive in the galaxy, should include a ‘repeat performance’ factor of about 5.5. It is also possible that some designer species (such as the designer dinosaur) may yet survive in spatial exile.
This paper ends by proposing ways to test the CID hypothesis, and speculates about applying it to the Anthropic Principle.
I write this article as an exercise in fairness and logic. I decided to take certain people at their word, and follow up the consequences of that word. I found that those consequences are not what one might expect. In fact, this article has something to offend everyone - including myself.
The idea for this article came to me after I read about Intelligent Design Theory. ID theory posits that biological structures are too well formed to be the result of gradual Darwinian evolution. ID theorists claim instances of ‘irreducible complexity’ in biological design, and conclude that these features must have been designed - that is, deliberately made that way by some conscious, intelligent, foreplanning entity.
Many Darwinians denounce ID theory as pseudo-science; an attempt to disguise religious dogma as scientific speculation. It is in fact true that many prominent ID theorists profess strong belief in literal biblical authority - a rarity amongst scientists. None the less, ID theorists insist that ID theory does not push a supernaturalist agenda.
Let us take them at their word! But then let’s ask; if the designer isn’t supernatural, then is the designer natural? What would a natural intelligent designer be like, and what fossil record would such a designer leave?
It seems to me that natural intelligent designers would display three all-too-natural traits; ignorance, conflict, and mortality. After some thought along these lines, I designed the theory of Catastrophic Intelligent Design, as presented here.
If the genome is indeed too well made to be the result of natural selection, if there was indeed some intelligent designer at work, and if that designer was a natural being, then just what sort of natural being was it?
There are many possibilities, including visiting extraterrestrials, a conscious biosphere, and slow ‘thinking’ by the genome itself: but this paper focuses on the one natural designer for which we have direct evidence; “designer species”, that is, social animals clever enough to manipulate DNA. We know that this planet has brought forth at least one such species; namely, ourselves.
Designer species are clever, greedy, adaptable, and opportunistic. They are social animals with tools and language; obligate manipulators of their environment and each other. Their societies support memetic evolution, which is orders of magnitude faster than genetic evolution. Thus the designer species quickly out-evolves all rivals and predators. Eventually they learn about DNA and how to rewrite it; then they seize control of the planetary genome.
This paper claims that the evolution of life on Earth has two distinct phases; slow ‘Darwinian’ evolution by natural selection, and fast ‘directed’ evolution by designer technology. Natural selection slowly produces a designer species; then the designer species swiftly reprocesses the planetary genome; then the designer goes extinct, and natural selection starts up again.
The Catastrophe of Intelligence.
Why ‘catastrophic’ intelligent design? Why not call this theory ‘natural’ intelligent design? Well, as noted in the previous section, there are many possible natural designers. What distinguishes a designer species from Gaia is that a conscious biosphere is by nature self-preserving, i.e. conservative; whereas a designer species is by nature radical, i.e. self-destructive. (A conscious genome is also self-preserving; and E.T. is, of course, another designer species.)
This paper claims that a designer species’ environmental impact is a violent catastrophe. The designer species evolves too quickly to leave a direct imprint on the fossil record; but it indirectly leaves a huge fossil signature: namely, a mass extinction.
This is because the designer species, which evolves by mimesis, out-adapts all rivals, competitors, predators and other limits on their numbers. Like a swarm of locusts, the designers raid every place on the planet, consuming all possible resources. Designers are opportunists; they consume everything they can because they can.
The ecological turmoil caused by designer greed is nothing compared to the chaos caused by that same designer’s misguided repair efforts. The designer species does indeed rebuild some of its victims; but it rebuilds them ‘better’ than before - i.e. not the same. These new-and-improved revenants then succeed all too well, driving other species to extinction, requiring their renovation, and so on. The designer species will, by a combination of altruism and ego, accidentally-on-purpose make the old ecology obsolete. Designers destroy the world in order to save it.
Yet, for all its destructiveness, a designer species is ultimately a force for creation; for it clears the ground of the old to make way for the new. Despite themselves, designers make all those who survive them faster, stronger, tougher, and smarter. Ironically, their ‘designer’ input to the genome does not exceed their ‘Darwinian’ impact.
Intelligence is to the planet as fire is to the forest; a recurrent catastrophe that paradoxically strengthens the ecosystem by eliminating the weak. We can also draw an economic analogy: designer species are to the Darwinian ecology as monopolies are to the free market; i.e. ambitious manipulators who transform the technology, steal resources, extinguish competition, subvert the system, and vanish in the resulting collapse.
This description of designer species is supported by observation of the one designer species now alive - ourselves. By our very rapaciousness, we fulfill our evolutionary role; but that should be no comfort to us personally. Just by being all-too-human, we serve Gaia; but the biosphere’s interests are not necessarily the same as ours.
Slaves, Prey and Pests.
What kinds of creatures survive during a designer-species epoch? Only those which can live with the designer species; for in a designer epoch, there’s no escaping them. Three categories of commensals exist; slaves, prey and pests. Slaves exchange labor for food and protection; prey are fed and fed upon, and pests parasitize off the designers. (These categories are not absolute; some species fill more than one of these niches at the same time; for instance, pets.)
Slaves and prey will be the most extensively re-engineered beings; and as such the least likely to survive past the designer epoch, for the redesign will be for the designer’s benefit, not theirs. (That’s the biggest difference between directed and Darwinian evolution.) The pests will be redesigned to some extent, but mostly by accident. Some redesigned genes will spread to pest species via hybrids; other genes will ride viruses, and so on. There will also be slaves and/or prey that escape to become pests.
The true future of post-designer evolution lies with the pests; for they are the least dependent on the designers and the least mis-engineered by them. It is also possible that the designers, in their ecological repair efforts, will be forced to use the pests as base breeding stock. (It would be as if humanity, having destroyed the ecology, had to repopulate the planet with vermin and weeds, such as raccoons, rats, mice, pigeons, flies, cockroaches, kudzu, poison ivy and crabgrass.)
Pests are clever, greedy, adaptable and opportunistic. As such they are fitting ancestors for future designer species. Thus the cycle recurs.
Fate of the Designer.
There is only one designer species alive today; why is this so? This is an Earth-bound version of the Fermi paradox. Fermi asked; where is extraterrestrial intelligence? I ask; where is terrestrial intelligence?
The absence of all previous designers is ominous; for it suggests that designer species are doomed. Perhaps designers are like a forest fire, which consumes everything that can support it, and then goes out. Even if they design their way out of their own ecological mess, then that too will work against them; for then they must compete against their own bio-technology.
The harshest challenge of all awaits the designers when they have redesigned every species except themselves. Shall they redesign themselves, or not? If they do not, then they become obsolete, an evolutionary relic, vulnerable to their creations and pests. But if they do redesign themselves, then that creates a dangerous rival; their new selves. Designers know that they are serial genociders; therefore versions 1.0 and 2.0 cannot trust each other. This causes deadly conflict.
Those seeking consolation for humankind within this scenario should note that a designer species lives a full life, though a brief one. Designers, which evolve memetically, experience much more evolution during their existence than other species do. Their lives are short in geological terms, but very, very long in social terms. Designers live fast and go far.
Designers could, in theory, survive by leaving the planet; this exile-to-outer-space scenario is like a crown fire, which spreads from valley to isolated valley by sparks on the wind. If this is so, then mass extinctions are a galactic phenomenon, as is pest dispersal.
A designer species could also, in theory, delete enough of its own intelligence to make them durable pests, but no longer unstable designers. (They might do this for ‘political’, ‘religious’, or ‘economic’ reasons.) Consider, for instance, the ants. Will these technological social insects become designers in the far future? Or were they designers in the far past? Or both?
Five Point Five Designers, and a Dinosaur Speculation.
How many designer species have appeared on this planet so far? I theorize; one per mass extinction. The fossil record shows five such mass extinctions so far, and a sixth is now in progress. Therefore five designer species have come and gone, and one is still with us - namely, us. Spread over about a billion years, this suggests that it takes, on average, about 182 million years for vermin on a devastated planet to become intelligent beings on a planet rich enough for them to devastate.
The “Drake equation” predicts how many technological civilizations there are in the galaxy, by multiplying factors such as rate of star formation, fractions of stars with planets, fraction of planets that evolve life, etc. If a planet can evolve multiple technological civilizations, then we need to rewrite the Drake equation to include a ‘repeat performance’ factor of 5.5. Including this factor decreases the expected distance to the nearest technological civilization by 43%.
I speculate that the designer species preceding ours was the one responsible for the K/T iridium layer. I propose that it was a dinosaur; bipedal, evolved from a stone-throwing hunter, perhaps a velociraptor. I theorize that a large colony of these dinosaurs was located at precisely the Chicxulub asteroid impact site; for others of their kind did not wish them well. Chicxulub killed off the earthbound branch of the species, but most of the ecological damage had already been done; so the Chicxulub impact didn’t cause a mass extinction; it ended one.
Some of the asteroid-throwers would have been living in space colonies; but space colonies are artifacts of civilization, so they cannot long survive their supporting civilizations. In terms of geological time, space colonies are a transient stopgap; they are seeds seeking solid ground in which to take root. Earth would not have been an option; both the redesigned ecology and the redesigned space dinosaurs would have changed too much. In a sense, Gaia had developed ‘resistance’; an ecological ‘immune response’ to the designer dinosaur plague. Perhaps some of the colonists flew to another star system to invade a biosphere lacking such resistance.
Testing this Hypothesis.
Here are six ways to verify the CID hypothesis:
‘Truly’ irreducible complexity. If there exist genes that truly could not, under any circumstances, have evolved by natural selection, then that counts as evidence for a designer. However, it is difficult to prove such a negative; and even were a designer proven, its nature would be unspecified. (Designer species? E.T.? Conscious genomes? Gaia?)
Species transplantation. If the fossil record shows species in unexpected places, far from their original habitats, then that may have been due to designer interference and/or pest opportunism. (Note, for instance, Australian rabbits.) However, species transplantation could be due to other natural causes.
Exon “cribsheets”. If the genomes of existing species contain ‘instruction sets’ within the exons, then they may have been left there by the designers. However, they may also be part of some natural gene regulation system, such as the conscious genomes briefly speculated upon above.
Gene transplantation. If long identical strings of DNA were found in genetically distant species, then that can be called evidence of designer meddling. It would be difficult to account for otherwise.
Radiological anomalies. Nuclear wars and waste dumps leave a radiological signature that can last for aeons. If detected, such radiological anomalies would be very difficult to account for other than by designer folly.
Abandoned artifacts in outer space. These include; derelict space colonies, ships, mines, dumps, litter, starship launchers, and corpses.
Postscript: Catastrophic Creationism; or, the Big Blunder
The CID hypothesis is a general retort to every use of the Argument from Design. If there is a designer, then it needn’t be supernatural; it could be a natural designer, displaying the all-too-natural traits of ignorance, conflict, and mortality.
Consider for instance the Anthropic Principle. Some consider the constants of nature to be finely tuned to allow our kind of life. They deduce from this the existence of a supernatural designer; but natural designers are possible here too. Perhaps sufficiently-advanced technological species learn how to design universes of their own (maybe by manipulating black holes) and they abuse this power to disastrous effect. It is hard to imagine a greater catastrophe than a Big Bang.
Addendum for the Perplexed
According to Poe's Law, there is no satire on religious belief, posted on the Web, that someone elsewhere on the Web doesn't agree to literally. Therefore there must be someone out there who really does believe in asteroid-throwing velociraptors, and cosmoi created by accident.
I propose these in jest, as a challenge to orthodoxy. Can you prove me wrong? Is there proof that the 5 previous mass extinctions weren't caused by creatures like us? Proof is not scientifically necessary; the onus is on my unfounded speculations; but perhaps a refutation of dino astronauts is possible. It would require nontrivial science.
I kid, but I kid on the square. One way to read this article is; what paleontological and genetic traces will we leave, sixty-five million years from now?