Sunday, May 04, 2014

Science, evolution and the Marvel universes

Yesterday, I went to watch the Amazing Spiderman 2, which had one too many "conclusions." The success of such comics turned movies is an indication that the generation of the 80s and 90s have grown up, and no doubt some people might decry the growing phenomenon of the "extended childhood" of the younger generations. For me, I don't see what's the difference between seeing one set of myths (Alien, Predator, Star Wars, ET etc), and another set of myths (Marvel, DC comics). Or for that matter, I have yet to see anyone decrying the older generation for believing in myths such as the Piltdown Man, Haeckel's embryonic recapitulation and so on.

Pop culture as a whole is not intellectual. However, it does indicate a certain direction the culture is moving towards. People subconsciously follow the prevailing culture around them, and cultural values tend to be the default setting for those who don't reflect on the issues under consideration. In effect, if you don't think for yourself, someone else or something else will do the thinking for you.

I would like to look and contrast the two different origin stories of Spiderman between the first trilogy just a few years backs, and the current Amazing Spiderman storyline. The main origin story for Spiderman's powers come from being bitten by a radioactive spider, which mutated Peter Parker's DNA and grant him spider-like powers, except on a human scale. In this reboot of the Spiderman franchise, Peter Parker was instead bitten by a genetically-altered spider in Oscorp. The spiders had their DNA spliced and recombined with human DNA from Richard Parker, Peter's father. The venom from the genetically engineered spiders, which presumably contained DNA, spliced fragments of DNA into Peter Parker's DNA, thus granting him Spiderman's powers. It is noted that the major villains in this storyline universe were all created through contact or infusion with genetically engineered material (Lizard, Electro, Green Goblin).

This change in the origins of super-powers seems interesting in light of the changing ideological landscape. Besides the New Atheists, hard core materialism is just about dead. The limitations of mere radiation to induce beneficial mutation seems to be acknowledged, thus a trend towards genetic engineering to introduce new genetic material. Notice that evolution is not questioned here. Rather, the change is from the extreme materialistic evolutionary metanarrative towards a metanarrative that is less materialistic and more spiritual, from an idea of pure random mutations towards directed or programmed genetic modifications.

In the larger Marvel universe, the origin of mutants with their powers is not due to the blind random mutations of time and chance, thus articles like this don't really do justice to the issue. Rather, according to the wiki entry, it was a group of sentient beings called the Celestials who modified the genome of Homo Erectus to form Homo sapiens, which presumably either introduced or created the X-gene. In other words, "evolution" is merely a genetically-directed mutation of the X gene under the application of external stimuli resulting in the activation of the "superpower" phenotypes. Now of course, it is incredible that one stretch of DNA can code for such powers, but besides the almost unbelievability of DNA coding for electromagnetic dominance (i.e. Magneto) among other supernatural powers, the scenario at least has a fa├žade of scientific plausibility.

The Marvel universe is most decidedly not materialistic. If anything, it tends towards pantheism, with energy gaining consciousness, as seen in the Beyonder of Universe/Earth-92131, energy from a pocket universe gaining sentience. Its ontology of sentient beings is therefore one of emergent dualism rather than the pure monism of hard core materialism. Sentience emerges from energy or matter, and then transcends it. The universe is "pro-life" and evolution is decidedly directional not random.

Now of course, the whole idea of evolution being directional, having an inherent telos from the bottom up (not top down), does not cohere with the current Neo-Darwinian evolutionary synthesis. However, it would not be surprising that it would be considered a plausible scientific thesis in the future, similar to the way the Anthropic Principle is used. The "argument" could be made that the universe must favor evolution towards greater complexity, because otherwise we wouldn't be here.

If the changes in the origins of Spiderman is any indication, the next thing after the materialist Neo-Darwinian synthesis is the acceptance of design in biology, but the "designer" is not God but rather the inherent telos of nature. It is an evolution from the bottom up, therefore there is no need of a Creator (top-down), as everything just emerges and the telos flows from its very being. This it seems might be the contender to deal with soon, as materialistic Neo-Darwinianism slowly winds down.

1 comment:

PuritanReformed said...

Steve Finnell,

this will be your last and final comment that I will "respond" to. Your comment has absolutely NOTHING to do with the post. It is another self-promotion post, and you attack biblical truth with verbiage and no exegesis of any biblical text.

You are hereby banned from commenting on this blog, until and unless I receive something to indicate your repentance of your trolling etc. Congrats on being the second person banned from this blog