Biology Intelligent Design

Strong emergence principle emerges in biology

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Things happen that can’t be explained without design:

Complex, multigenic biological traits are shaped by the emergent interaction of proteins being the main functional units at the molecular scale. Based on a phenomenological approach, algorithms for quantifying two different aspects of emergence were introduced (Wegner and Hao in Progr Biophys Mol Biol 161:54-61, 2021) describing: (i) pairwise reciprocal interactions of proteins mutually modifying their contribution to a complex trait (denoted as weak emergence), and (ii) formation of a new, complex trait by a set of n ‘constitutive’ proteins at concentrations exceeding individual threshold values (strong emergence). The latter algorithm is modified here to take account of protein redundancy with respect to a complex trait (‘full redundancy’). Irreducibility is considered a necessary and sufficient criterion for strong biological emergence; if one constitutive protein is missing, or its concentration drops below the threshold the trait is lost. A definition based on ‘unpredictability’ is dismissed, because this criterion is irrelevant for the evolution of a complex trait, and apparent unpredictability may rather reflect our basic deficits in understanding unless we can provide an unequivocal proof for it. The phenomenological approach advocated here allows to identify hidden rules according to which strongly emergent traits may be organized. This is of high value for understanding the evolution of complex traits which seems to require the saltational advent of all constitutive proteins ‘in one turn’ to arrive at a functional trait providing for an improved fitness of the organism. Rather than being a purely random process, it may be guided by fundamental structural principles.

Hao Z, Liu J, Wu B, Yu M, Wegner LH. Strong Emergence in Biological Systems: Is It Open to Mathematical Reasoning? Acta Biotheor. 2021 Dec;69(4):841-856. doi: 10.1007/s10441-021-09423-1. Epub 2021 Aug 31. PMID: 34463940.

Not that they put it that way.

The paper is open access.

67 Replies to “Strong emergence principle emerges in biology

  1. 1
    Belfast says:

    “ Rather than being a purely random process, it may be guided by fundamental structural principles.”
    But Darwin, Monod, Huxley stress that ‘randomness’ is the very heart – in fact, a necessary truth – in evolution!
    The obvious absence of randomness in saltation, still an impediment to belief in Darwinism, can be overcome by ‘hidden rules.’???
    Mayr had a similar watery approach.

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    This is an item BA77 would be interested in – and others here I hope – posting on this thread for lack of a better place.

    Breaking news on new Shroud of Turin analysis
    Published: 11 April 2022
    On a sample of the Turin Shroud (TS), we applied a new method for dating ancient linen threads by inspecting their structural degradation by means of Wide-Angle X-ray Scattering (WAXS). The X-ray dating method was applied to a sample of the TS consisting of a thread taken in proximity of the 1988/radiocarbon area (corner of the TS corresponding to the feet area of the frontal image, near the so-called Raes sample). The size of the linen sample was about 0.5 mm × 1 mm. We obtained one-dimensional integrated WAXS data profiles for the TS sample, which were fully compatible with the analogous measurements obtained on a linen sample whose dating, according to historical records, is 55–74 AD, Siege of Masada (Israel). The degree of natural aging of the cellulose that constitutes the linen of the investigated sample, obtained by X-ray analysis, showed that the TS fabric is much older than the seven centuries proposed by the 1988 radiocarbon dating. The experimental results are compatible with the hypothesis that the TS is a 2000-year-old relic, as supposed by Christian tradition

  3. 3
    PaV says:

    Silver Asiatic:

    Thanks for the link. If this experimental evidence holds up, the Western world will have to completely rethink the Shroud of Turin. And, in particular, scientists will have their hands filled trying to explain how any of this is possible using any known methods known to mankind, either in the First Century or in the Twenty-First Century.

    In St. John’s Gospel, he writes that “this disciple” (St. John) went into the tomb and saw the burial garments. And he ends saying that this disciple John) “saw and believed.” I’m afraid the scientists of today will “see,” understand the supernatural origins required of this event, and still “not believe.” Alas. Faith is a gift that comes from above. We have but to ask for it. (If God chooses, he can flood this faith into our hearts and mind as St. Paul experienced.)

  4. 4
    Belfast says:

    I was interested to see that one author, Giulio Fanti, had predicted the possibility of using this technique 30 years ago. Fanti has taken part in other novel techniques testing the age of fabrics, including stretch tests. The range of dates was, from memory, 300-400 years either side of the recorded event.
    The precision obtained in this particular test is a big improvement in narrowing; and the test is readily available to comparing the Shroud with ancient fabrics with known dates in Europe.

  5. 5
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Great reflection, PaV. I really think the Gospel was referring to the shroud when they “saw and believed”. And yes, it’s easy to forget the gift-aspect of faith. Good arguments can help but as you rightly say, it has to come from above, enlightening mind and heart.

  6. 6
    Fred Hickson says:

    I just tried an experiment. Lying flat on the floor, I tried getting my hands to cover my groin as in the shroud image. Result: my arms aren’t long enough.
    Of course I may have shorter than average arms though I’m not aware of it. Off-the-peg clothes fit well enough. Maybe others would like to try it.

  7. 7
    Seversky says:

    I also tried it and couldn’t position my hands as in the Shroud image. The Wikipedia entry also notes that the image shows the arms to be abnormally long.

    There are also the questions of how accurate this X-ray technique is and,
    as the researchers note, it assumes the Shroud was stored under optimal conditions for the thirteen centuries where we have no idea at all about where it might have been kept.

  8. 8
    Fred Hickson says:

    I know it is impolite to question God’s purpose. But maybe a little less uncertainty would be more convincing of what it is the artifact is intended to show. I mean if you have faith, what does the shroud add? If you don’t, there’s plenty to question about how old it it, how the image got on the cloth, why isn’t it strips as mentioned in the New Testament.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    FH & Seversky, did you try posing your arms after being nailed through the wrists and suspended from your arms for several hours? KF

  10. 10
    Fred Hickson says:

    Not me. Do you think I can get longer arms that way? Sounds a bit Lamarckian!

  11. 11
    Bob O'H says:

    Not Lamackian, Fred. Intelligently designed.

  12. 12
    Fred Hickson says:

    Bob, thanks for chiming in. I’m not sure if I’m the target of some of your wry humor.

  13. 13
    ET says:

    Fred Hickson:

    Do you think I can get longer arms that way?
    Only a fool wouldn’t think it could.

    Sounds a bit Lamarckian!

    So you are a fool! There wasn’t any passing on of the trait. Nice own goal, fool

  14. 14
    ET says:

    I am 6′ tall with an arm span of 73.5 inches. My hands cover my groin when I am lying on my back.

  15. 15
    jerry says:

    The Shroud has been the most studied artifact in history. I’m glad we have local experts to expand on this. I look forward to your appearance at the next congress on the research of the Shroud.

    Aside: my wife and I and another couple saw the Shroud when it was on display. The funny part of the story was driving around in our rental car trying to find it. After entering Turin (coming from Monaco) we were wandering around and getting lost. Nobody spoke English and we spoke no Italian.

    Finally my wife was inspired and said Domo to everyone we saw and they then pointed in the direction of the Cathedral. After 5-6 of these, we found the Domo.

  16. 16
    Fred Hickson says:

    It’s a while but my memory of Turin is a town dominated by the automotive industry.

  17. 17
    Fred Hickson says:

    Jerry, were you impressed by the shroud in the flesh, so to speak? I remember being distinctly unimpressed by the Mona Lisa after all the queuing do get to see it.

  18. 18
    Fred Hickson says:

    ET. The Lamarck reference was a joke. He was wrong with his theory but he was a pioneering biologist of his time and much about him is to be admired.

  19. 19
    jerry says:

    were you impressed by the shroud in the flesh, so to speak?


    It was like a large somewhat dirty piece of cloth. We were allowed to get within 15 feet of it.

    But one cannot say they are unimpressed by the research on it It’s some of the most incredible scientific findings in the history of mankind. All of us were well read on what was current when we went to Turin.

    It occasionally arises as a topic here. But usually not as a focus of attention. There is another amazing artifact – the painting of Guadalupe.

  20. 20
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    The Lamarck reference was a joke.

    One century of studies on mutations has not provided a single verified example of a gene mutation that led to an adaptive morphological change in metazoans. On the contrary, examples are described of evolutionary changes having suddenly occurred in whole populations without changes in allele frequencies (numerous cases of transgenerational predator-induced defenses
    in invertebrates, sympatric speciation in sibling species involving no changes
    in allele frequencies, evolutionary reversions, atavisms, and experimental
    induction of reversion of ancestral traits in as little as 5 generations in

    Female guppies of the species Poecilia reticulata, prefer to mate with males
    with larger orange spots
    . Selection experiments for male attractiveness and
    female preferences with P. reticulata for three generations, also failed to show
    results that would be expected according to the previous hypotheses (Hall et al.,
    2004). There is evidence that, contrary to the previous belief, the preference for
    males with large orange spots is not related to any higher fitness of these males,
    but it is related to a general sensory preference of females of this species for
    orange colored objects, including food (Rodd et al., 2002)
    When female guppies of the species Poecilia reticulata visually detect
    the presence of their cichlid predator, Cichlasoma biocellatum in the environment, they reverse to the ancestral preference for duller instead of bright colored males (Gong and Gibson, 1996)

    Animals lose previous behaviors that are no longer adaptive to the new habitat, but they
    “remember” the circuits for the lost behaviors. Species that happen to return
    to ancestral or quasi-ancestral habitats might activate the conserved ancestral
    circuit and reverse to the lost ancestral innate behavior

    Female preferences are innate traits, but they can be modified by experience.
    Exposure of female fish of the green swordtail to predation, for instance, makes
    them to switch mate preference to swordless fish from the original state of long
    sword preference (Johnson and Basolo, 2003). Early life experiences in guppies
    modify female mate preference
    to orange male coloration
    From a neo-Darwinian standpoint, that is, from the view that mate preferences are determined by genes, such sudden changes are inexplicable. But they
    are quite understandable from the epigenetic view that mate preferences are
    function of neural circuits, which display a relatively high plasticity at both
    the developmental and evolutionary levels.
    There is no evidence that the plasticity and evolution of the mate recognition
    system in animals is related or correlated with changes in genes, allele frequencies, or other genetic mechanisms.

    In response to the presence of its predators, the freshwater snail, Helisoma
    trivolvis, simultaneously changes its behavior (preference for a particular habitat and the timing of the onset of the reproductive behavior) and morphology
    (the form of the shell) (Hoverman et al., 2005)

    The neotropical tadpole, Rana palmipes, in response to the presence of its
    predator water bug, or even of predator cues alone, changes its behavior by
    strongly reducing its activity, darkening its body color and increasing the size
    of muscle and tail (McIntyre et al., 2004)

    Acyrthosiphon pisum (Harris, 1776) is a pea aphid that in the presence of
    predators emits a volatile alarm pheromone, which, when perceived in the brain
    of females, induces the latter not only to shift to walking behavior and drop off
    the plants but also to increase the proportion of winged morphs in the offspring
    (Dixon and Agarwala, 1999; Kunert and Weiser, 2003).

    Mallorcan midwife toad, A. muletensis, which in response to the presence of its viperine predator, and even upon detecting a chemical released by the predator, induces rapid changes
    in its behavior and later changes in morphology, which make the toad less vulnerable to the snake.


    PS: Maybe you should check out scientists other than Dawkins :)))

  21. 21
    Belfast says:

    Talk about fools rushing in.
    The link provided by SA refers to dating the age of the Shroud linen – it is absolutely mute on the images on the linen- yet smart-alecs jump in to say their hands don’t cover their groin while lying on their back, hint, hint!!
    WAXS – pronounced WAX-S – essentially measures the distance (the d-space) between successive parallel planes of atoms; it also indicates the orientation of the planes. It measures the scattered X-rays at angles big enough to define lengths.
    Using the technique, the authors established the age of the Shroud linen as being analogous with another linen sample of undoubted age; that is, coeval.
    As the technique used is non-destructive of the two samples, the experiment can readily be reproduced in hundreds of laboratories around the world. The conclusions are not answered by daft comparisons of arm-lengths.
    ‘Foolish’ is the most temperate thing one can say of the remarks of Hickson and Seversky on the issue.

  22. 22
    JHolo says:

    ET: I am 6? tall with an arm span of 73.5 inches. My hands cover my groin when I am lying on my back.

    Did you just figure this out or is this knowledge based on frequent repetition? 🙂

  23. 23
    ET says:

    Yes, playing soccer often required the covering of my groin with my hands.

  24. 24
  25. 25
    kairosfocus says:

    ET, aka indirect free kick time. Aka, ouch. For cricket, there is the groin cup for batsmen [along with shin and knee pads and nowadays a helmet], as in a hard ball at 90+ mph. KF

    PS, How fast is that ball moving

    PPS. Tabulated:

    Ronny Heberson: 211 km/h
    Arjen Robben: 190 km/h
    Steven Reid: 189 km/h
    Ronald Koeman: 188 km/h
    David Hirst: 183 km/h
    David Beckham: 158 km/h

    That sounds like, register with the police territory.

  26. 26
    JHolo says:

    Average pro soccer kick is 112 km/hr. Average pro hockey slap shot is 160 km/hr. And a hockey puck is 170 grams of frozen vulcanized rubber. And when players attempt to block a shot, which they do routinely, they use a hand to protect their face, not their crotch.

  27. 27
    ET says:

    Hockey players wear a protective cup. Their jewels are well protected.

  28. 28
    JHolo says:

    ET: Hockey players wear a protective cup. Their jewels are well protected.

    You obviously have not played much hockey. 🙂

  29. 29
    kairosfocus says:

    JH, if they don’t, they should. Along with other things, but then Cricketers traditionally wore little protection. I think the medical authorities gradually prevailed. KF

  30. 30
    Fred Hickson says:

    Guppies are fancy by design.

    I’m pleased to see KF grasps that selection is a non-random process that produces amazing variation, whether the designer is human or the niche environment.

    Ethics of selective breeding taken to extremes is questionable.

  31. 31
    Fred Hickson says:

    Human arms do not stretch when subjected to extreme force. They tear off.

  32. 32
    kairosfocus says:

    FH, the selection isolates the variation and preserves it it does not cause variation. Normally, there are limits, especially where such would cause loss of viability in the wild. In some cases I think there has been explicit gene engineering. KF

    PS, see

  33. 33
    kairosfocus says:

    FH, we are not dealing with extreme force but with the possibility of dislocation. KF

  34. 34
    jerry says:

    The farce that has ensued to support a nonsensical criticism of the most studied artifact in the history of mankind is ironical. One that was described as the anatomically correct image of a crucified man.

    With the whole world out there this is the best they can do.

    What better proof of anything can one get?

    As one with great insight once said.

    Stupid is as stupid does

  35. 35
    ET says:

    Fred Hickson:

    Human arms do not stretch when subjected to extreme force.

    Your ignorance is not an argument. Human arms do stretch, especially when hanging from them. Muscles are pliable. And in the case of shoulder dislocations from hanging, even more so.

  36. 36
    ET says:

    Fred Hickson:

    I’m pleased to see KF grasps that selection is a non-random process that produces amazing variation, whether the designer is human or the niche environment.

    Your ignorance with respect to natural selection is also not an argument. Natural selection is nonrandom in a trivial sense in that not all variants have the same chance of being eliminated (Mayr). It does not produce amazing variation. It does not design. It is nothing more than contingent serendipity.

    Fred Hickson is an uneducated troll.

  37. 37
    kairosfocus says:

    FH, natural selection would be a dynamic stochastic process with a strong stochastic element, as even Darwin noted. As I have pointed out it does not account for information, just the culling out of “less favoured” “races” — we need to find a credible source of FSCO/I adequate to deal with the reality of deeply isolated islands of function. KF

  38. 38
    Fred Hickson says:

    FH, the selection isolates the variation and preserves it – it does not cause variation.

    Of course selection does not produce variation. Goodness me! For long-time critics of evolutionary theory, UD regulars seem perversely unable to grasp the process they are criticizing.

    Variation arises in genomes when genes are duplicated, typically at meiosis, commonly due to copying errors. The selection process results in phenotypes that are “fitter” in their niche and achieve greater reproductive success becoming more common in the population. Fixation, where one allele at a particular locus exists at 100% and others disappear, is not adding to variation but reducing it. If no new variations arrived via mutations, etc, selection would lead to inbreeding and extinction.

  39. 39
    ET says:

    Wow. Natural selection includes the genetic variation. Ernst Mayr says that is the first step of natural selection.

    And natural selection is a process of elimination. Fred is totally clueless about the concept.

  40. 40
    Silver Asiatic says:


    yet smart-alecs jump in to say their hands don’t cover their groin while lying on their back, hint, hint!!

    Exactly. Good hints for anybody who missed it. Aside from the distraction itself, dislocation of the shoulder is a known effect since the arms had to be stretched to match pre-drilled holes.

  41. 41
    Sandy says:

    due to copying errors.

    I didn’t know the biologists decoded the multiples languages of the cell otherwise how in the world would they know how to detect errors in genes from “edited” genes ? If you don’t know greek would you know how to detect an error in greek? If you don’t know too much about cell would you think there is a lot of junk? Of course the ignorance is knowledge …until is exposed. :))

  42. 42
    JHolo says:

    KF: JH, if they don’t, they should.

    No, all hockey players wear a protective cup. My comment was simply that a protective cup isn’t complete protection from a slap shot. As anyone who played hockey would know.

  43. 43
    ET says:

    My comment was simply that a protective cup isn’t complete protection from a slap shot.

    It isn’t supposed to be “complete protection”. It protects what needs to be protected, though.

  44. 44
    kairosfocus says:

    FH, nor is the cricket cup. Etc, indeed not even the Chobham Armour on a tank. KF

  45. 45
    kairosfocus says:

    SA, when your arms are the ropes used to hang you, slowly. A demonic cruelty. KF

  46. 46
    Fred Hickson says:

    @ Sandy

    You are not making much sense in comment 41. Still wondering about your field of expertise.

  47. 47
    Fred Hickson says:

    Regarding arm length, it’s the forearms on the shroud image that appear disproportionately long. Not sure how shoulder dislocation is relevant

  48. 48
    ET says:

    There is an articulated joint at the elbows, too. Maybe try taking an anatomy class.

  49. 49
    Fred Hickson says:

    You’re priceless, Joe. 😉

  50. 50
    Silver Asiatic says:

    My arms reach that far while lying down.

  51. 51
    Silver Asiatic says:


    You are not making much sense in comment 41.

    You’re claiming that copying errors can create new functional code.

  52. 52
    Fred Hickson says:

    Just to clarify, anyone suspended by the wrists in a cruciform position is unable to breathe. (Brake their legs). The victim being able or forced to support their weight with their feet prolongs the agony as well as reducing the load on arm joints.

  53. 53
    asauber says:


    Mine too.

    Also I know that physical Shroud copies/models have been wrapped around physical human models created from live people laying down, and the image on the shroud matches up.


  54. 54
    Fred Hickson says:


    Well, it’s a matter of fact that, let’s take humans as an example, there are perhaps 175 mutations on average from parent to child.

  55. 55
    Fred Hickson says:

    Not to mention Covid variants.

  56. 56
    Fred Hickson says:


  57. 57
    Fred Hickson says:

    And how do coronaviruses store their genes? In…

    RNA sequences!!!

  58. 58
    hnorman42 says:

    WRT the the OP – Am I missing something? Is strong emergence an explanatory principle defined purely by its inability to explain?

    I can see weak emergence being a meaningful concept but it represents a category of explanation rather than an explanation itself.

  59. 59
    Seversky says:

    Perhaps the elongated forearms in the Shroud image were evidence of a strongly emergent trait?

  60. 60
    jerry says:

    I can see weak emergence being a meaningful concept but it represents a category of explanation rather than an explanation itself.

    This is a thread about arm length.

    I’m being facetious but accurate.

  61. 61
    hnorman42 says:

    My apologies, gentlemen. Perhaps at a more opportune time.

  62. 62
    jerry says:

    Perhaps at a more opportune time.

    Why don’t you lay out your case. It would infinitely improve the discussion.

  63. 63
    hnorman42 says:

    Jerry –
    There’s not a lot to say except that there seems to be a problem at the very core of the definition of strong emergence – at least as far as I can see.

    It’s supposed to represent behavior in a system that is not explainable in terms of its constituent parts. So that tells us what it’s not explainable in terms of. So what is it explainable in terms of? Is strong emergence just a license to turn anything that we don’t understand into an axiom?

    Weak emergence may be a different case. The murmuring of starlings requires more than one starling but I believe it’s explainable in terms of how an individual starling acts in a group. If that’s not the case I would have similar objections as well.

  64. 64
    ET says:

    All of the corona variants are still corona viruses.

    And just to clarify. Anyone crucified wouldn’t be able to support their weight with their legs once they are dead and still hanging there.

    You’re priceless, Joe.

    And you are still clueless.

  65. 65
    Fred Hickson says:

    Joe writes:

    Anyone crucified wouldn’t be able to support their weight with their legs once they are dead and still hanging there.

    Hence my “brake their legs” reference.

  66. 66
    jerry says:

    There’s not a lot to say except that there seems to be a problem at the very core of the definition of strong emergence

    Here is a discussion of the term “emergence” from a year ago. It has been discussed many time before that. Essentially it is a BS term that has some meaning in physics but not Evolution. The discussion from a year ago includes some of the usual suspects including you.

    I was not aware of the concept of “strong” vs “weak” emergence.

    It always seemed to me that the term “emergent” relevant to Evolution meant something appeared without explanation and that it was somehow the result of constituents. It is essentially a begging the question fallacy.

  67. 67
    hnorman42 says:

    Jerry –

    That’s quite a thread. I appreciate the reference. I honestly have no memory of taking part in it. It seems — and the participants may take issue with me — that we had no defenders of emergence as an explanatory principle. We had people say that it was never intended as an explanation, and we got comments that it was no worse than ID. But as far as strong support for emergence, it wasn’t there.

    I guess that answers my question. I asked if I was missing anything. If I am, I have plenty of company.

    About weak and strong emergence, Wikipedia has a little to say but it’s enigmatic. I thought weak emergence was something like where water has properties that are not possessed by hydrogen and oxygen. Although the constituents have differences, the emergence of water can still be explained in terms of the interactions of the constituents.

    That would make weak emergence a category of explanation. Emergence is treated as something to be explained rather than an explanation in itself.

    I think though that Wikipedia is saying that this sort of thing is not emergence in any sense of the word. I can’t say as that I can fathom the distinction as they present it.

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