Charles Darwin made an extraordinary breakthrough when he observed and conceptualized the fundamental force of nature. Many of us asked why evolution was the driving force of life. How does it explain life in all its multifarious varieties and strangenesses?
Some people answer with God, with an all-powerful Creator that intelligently designs the form and function and birthday of each living thing. They are incorrect. God does not waste effort trying to predict which formats, layouts, or functions will perform the best. That is not the most effective method for creating better life. And God would use the best method.
Other people, like Richard Dawkins, answer that selfish genes are the driving force. That the algorithm itself steers the course of life with its desire to survive as the fittest. He is closer, but also incorrect because he willfully fails to recognize the conductor of this symphony at work with its optimally efficient methodology.
Alan Watts may have come the closest I have witnessed when he spoke of the Chinese concept of nature ziran ("that which is so of itself", "the spontaneous"). A natural thing can be recognized because it is unique and strange and quite unlike any other natural thing. You cannot predict the oddness of a natural thing, but you know it when you see it. The grain in wood, the fracture in rock, the fractal pattern in a stem of grass or a seashell. Some natural things are wildly different from others like an aspen tree and the pip mouse that lives under it. And some living things are remarkably similar and yet arose independently on opposite ends of the globe like the sulfur-eating bacteria around the volcanic vents on the ocean floor. They didn't migrate there. But they evolved there just the same.
The answer to this mystery is the fundamental purpose of consciousness. Consciousness wants to get better. Consciousness began as an ignorant blob without size or shape or mass or weight. Consciousness had no texture or density. There was no time or space to help it define size or speed. But Consciousness is and Consciousness wants to get better, so it evolves. It makes a change in itself, the simplest change, and then it asks whether it is better, and records its observations with a name for the change and any other details it can gather about how and why it is better. Consciousness is quite scientific. It admits ignorance wholeheartedly and it tests every possibility it can imagine. Nature as we know it, is the manifestation of many of these imagined improvements all playing together.
Evolution is the chosen strategy to improve the quality of the consciousness because it is the most efficient and comprehensive method for getting better. If you want to call the Creator God, you can say that God is the best at getting better, so it chose evolution. But you must also call yourself God because you are an individuated manifestation of the Consciousness sharing fully in its fundamental abilities of free will and awareness. To misquote Rumi, you are a single drop of water in an ocean of consciousness and the whole ocean in a single drop.
The inheritance of acquired or expressed characteristics was once considered obvious by Darwin and the other Lamarckians of his day. That children would express their genes and develop similarly to their parents and close relatives had been born out by oodles of observations and experiments in heritable biology over the centuries and decades of increasingly formalized domestication and agriculture of animals and plants. Culture and/or nurture can explain a large portion of supposed epigenetic effects, especially as the heritable habits and behaviors across generations.
Is religiosity epigenetic? Long necks on giraffes? The flightlessness of ostriches? Catholic guilt? Pigeon-toed gaits? Pattern baldness? Bad breath? Myopia? Asthma? Preferences for dogs or cats as pets? Are these genetic? Are they learned? Or somewhere in between?