Monday, February 20, 2006

Evolution/ID debate: a cosmological perspective

The focus of science should be: what can be known from the scientific record? It is often stated that scientific statements must be verifiable, that is, capable of verification. Science restricts itself to the measurable, observable universe of matter and energy in their various forms. Yet I submit that far more can be known from scientific investigation and analysis about ultimate questions than has been recognized by many scientists. In fact, the question “Why is there any matter at all?” is also a scientific question, though we may not yet have an answer to it. Why is there energy?
In considering the evolution/ID debate, I’d like first to offer a distinction. A great deal of the debate, sometimes rather heated, on evolution suffers from confusion because lots of scientists fail to distinguish two different senses of the term ‘evolution.’ MEANING NO. 1: In one sense, evolution means that all life on Earthshares a common ancestor (and that different species share common ancestors,such as for example the hippopotamus, dolphin and whale share a commonancestor). It maintains that all organisms on earth are descended from a single common ancestor. Professor Darwin’s theory that living things evolved or descended from common ancestors is true and is proved by the convergence of the sciences. MEANING NO. 2: But ‘evolution’ in Dr. Darwin’s sense is taken tomean that a new species originates as a result of "natural selection" -- randomincremental mutations over millions of years. In this full-blownbiological and Darwinian sense, the term ‘evolution’ means a process whereby lifearose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely from naturalmeans. Darwin’s evolution posits that life arose on its own out of inanimate chemicalcompounds and has gradually evolved over millions of years. Darwin’stheory is that all complex species and organs such as the eye and animalinstincts evolved by the “accumulation of innumerable slight variations ….” (1859, p. 459)
It is this second meaning of evolution, the theory of natural selection as a theory of emergence of life and origin of species, that is unsubstantiated and false, I argue. Many point to the extensive evidence of common ancestry and conclude from that that theory of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution has been proved. But that is a non sequitur. Natural selection was Darwin’s Wild Guess back in 1850’s, a brilliant and interesting theory in the 1800’s. But it is less interesting today in view of microbiology. Natural selection as theory of emergence of new species is bad science today; it does not fit observation. No one, not Dr. Darwin or anybody else, has ever observed natural selection lead to the evolution of a single species in the 3.9 billion years since Earth went biotic. To be sure, natural selection (microevolution) is a true force of nature. Natural selection accounts for such things as pesticide resistance of insects (e.g., the mosquitos that survive an application of a given pesticide eventually develop an immunity to it over time), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Wiener cites the research of Peter and Rosemary Grant. But no finch ever evolves into a Bald Eagle (or something other than a finch) due to natural selection. That’s what the Grants would have had to discover to find any scientific corroboration for natural selection as a theory of emergence of life or biological evolution of species. Whatever the correct answer to emergence of life or new species is, it’s not natural selection.
Analysis from Recent Big Bang cosmology

1. Uniformity of temperature of different regions of cosmos

To evaluate the evolution debate, we need to consider the most recent findings in Big Bang cosmology. The NASA most recent discoveries from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (“WMAP”) are relevant to understanding biological evolution. The latest WMAP portraits allow NASA precisely to peg the age of the Universe at 13.7 billion years old + or – 2% margin of error. The WMAP team has shown that the Universe is only 4% atoms of ordinary matter, 23% of cold dark matter and 73% of dark energy. One of the most startling discoveries of the WMAP team is that the temperature of the Big Bang microwave background radiation is largely identical, no matter in what direction of the early Universe -- evidence that the Universe, on a macro level (taking cubes of, say, 500 million light-years on a side), is uniform and homogeneous throughout its vast expanse. Contrast this with an infrared photo of an ordinary explosion, even a nuclear blast; an infrared photo will show up areas that are significantly hotter and others that are cooler. But this is not what the WMAP portrait of the Big Bang shows. It is this uniformity and homogeneity of the disparate regions of the cosmos -- a scientific finding, not a philosophical finding -- that has taken scientists aback. The quest for an explanation for this uniformity in the cosmos is a scientific quest, not a question of theology (or at least not only a question for theologians).

If we had special glasses that could allow us to see the Big Bang microwaves with our eyes, the entire sky would glow with a uniform brightness in every direction no matter where in the sky you looked. The observations of the cosmic background radiation show that the Universe was astonishingly uniform in temperature (to one part in 100,000) by the age of 380,000 years after the Big Bang, per the WMAP team. The problem that this presents is that nothing (no energy and no information) can travel through space faster than light speed. How could this uniformity among different regions of the Universe be established when the Universe evolved so quickly such that there was no time for the uniformity of temperature and density in all parts of the embryonic Universe to be established and where information cannot travel faster than light speed? How could different regions of the cosmos whose horizons have always been separate and could never have interacted or influenced each other, have nearly identical temperatures? Though Dr. Alan Guth at MIT takes a stab at the problem with his theory of inflation, I do not find his theory plausible as an explanation of the 13.7 billion year duration of the uniformity. Something else is going on. The theory of random explansion of matter and energy and the fabric of space/time does not hold up to observation.

2. Rate of Expansion of cosmos is extraordinarily finely calibrated

A second major finding of the WMAP team at NASA is that the rate of expansion of the Universe precisely equals the critical rate needed to avoid recollapse of the entire Universe. The matter/energy density of the Universe exactly equals the critical density but is not greater. If it were greater than the critical density, that would result in slowing down the galaxies and eventually recollapsing the entire Universe, springing them back inwards like an overstretched Slinky toy into a Big Crunch. Did we just get lucky?

If such superfine calibration of the cosmos were true for 10 minutes, it would have been exciting enough. But nearly 14 billion years of such extraordinary calibration? What is behind this? The Big Bang was no ordinary explosion. Something else is going on. The Wilkinson probe has proved that the geometry of the Universe is flat, as opposed to being closed, such that, for example, the photons of a laser beam fired into space will continue in a straight line without curling back onto themselves, as they would if the Universe were closed or space were in the shape of a sphere. What is responsible for such fine-tuning of the cosmos from inception and keeping it precisely that way for billion of years? This is a scientific question. Astrophysicists really have no satisfactory answer to the flatness problem (the precise calibration of the expansion of the cosmos since its birth to avoid recollapse in some kind of 'Big Crunch'), if they attempt to explain cosmic flatness as a stream of chance coincidences that lasted nearly 14 billion years.

No astrophysicist, scientist or engineer has been able to explain these scientific findings. Something else is going on. The Big Bang is not some random haphazard explosion in space; it is the explosion of the fabric of space/time itself. A reasonable explanatory hypothesis is that some external force is controlling the Big Bang expansion of the Universe and has done so for nearly 14 billion years. Do the NASA findings tell us anything about the nature of this external force? Not much, but something. Do these findings lead to the conclusion that an omnipotent Judaeo-Christian or Islamic God exists? No. But this suggest that something else is going on other than random chance events.



The evolution debate

I propose that the analysis of Big Bang cosmology should be brought to bear on the evolution debate. Turning now to evolution --

Why did life emerge on Earth 3.9 billion years ago, but not on Mars or anywhere else in this sun system? Natural selection doesn’t work on Mars or anywhere else in this sun system? The position that natural selection accounts for Origin of the Species was always a conjectural theory to begin with, though natural selection is a true force of nature. It was Dr. Darwin’s “Wild Guess” back in 1859, a brilliant guess in his day, but not so interesting or plausible in our own time in view of the findings of modern genetics and microbiology. It does not fit with scientific observation, which makes natural selection as theory of emergence of life and origin of new species, bad science. Natural selection accounts for such things as pesticide resistance of insects (e.g., the mosquitos that survive an application of a given pesticide eventually develop an immunity to it over time), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Living things have a certain level of adaptability on their own. That does not mean that new species pop up on their own through random chance mutations. Something else is going on.

At most, natural selection shows that, for example, finches on the Galapagos Islands with larger bills have a better chance of survival in a drought. But no finch ever evolves into a Bald Eagle due to natural selection … and never will. Likewise, the orangutans in the Great Ape House at the National Zoo, a species about 14 million years old, do not build cities and do not evolve into chatty people and never will. Wasn’t 14 million years enough time for the orangutans and chimps to start building cities? After all, Homo sapiens is only 200,000 years old. They have had enough time to evolve, if time were the requisite ingredient for evolution as the neo-Darwinists posit. Orangutans continue to reproduce according to their genome and will continue to do so unless and until some external force mutates the species into something else, which has not occurred in the last 14 million years for this species.

Natural Selection Is Not the Mechanism for Origin of
New Species, as Shown by the Evolution of Dogs

The genetic studies published in November 2002 in Science by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden and other scientists provide compelling new evidence against natural selection as the mechanism that gives rise to origin of new species. All breeds of domestic dogs evolved from a single gene pool of a small group of gray wolves in East Asia about 15,000 years ago, as mitochondrial DNA studies prove. This is an important new model for evolution and how it operates. This small group of East Asian gray wolves were the prototypes from which dogs and over the years all breeds of dogs were evolved. The prototype wolves were altered and their offspring were evolved into the first group of early progenitor dogs. Dogs in North America did not evolve from North American wolves. Likewise, European dogs did not evolve from European wolves. What happened to ‘natural selection’ in North America or Europe? It just didn’t work on those continents? Had ‘natural selection’ been the mechanism responsible for the evolution of dog breeds, then I submit that dogs in North America would have evolved from North American gray wolves. But they did not. Dogs in Europe would have evolved from gray wolves in Europe. But they did not. This genetic evidence is new evidence that tends to be disprobative of ‘natural selection’ as the supposed mechanism for the origin of species. Something else is going on here.

As every scientist knows, to refute theory X does not mean that the scientist knows what the correct theory is. But that is what I am shooting for. Natural selection, random mutations over millions of years, cannot possibly be the correct explanation for the origin of species or the emergence of life on Earth. Darwinism on this specific issue is fundamentally wrong, though Charles Darwin was a brilliant scientist. Evolution is real but the natural selection explanation can't be right. Why is it that young people in undergraduate or high school science class must be taught the neo-Darwinists' explanation of the causative mechanism behind biological evolution although it remains unsubstantiated? What would be wrong with teaching young people (older people as well) to evaluate competing ideas and theories and to keep their minds open? ... Or to saying: "Hi, kids, we scientists really don't have much of a clue about what is going on in terms of the causative mechanism for emergence of life or new species. Natural selection was Dr. Darwin's guess as to causation behind biological evolution but we really don't have the evidence to support it." This, of course, is not to say that we should not keep trying from science better to understand the emergence of life and the progress of biological evolution from that point in time.

The sudden appearance of flowers some 130 million years ago (some say earlier) in the fossil record is not consistent with natural selection. One day there are no flowers in the fossil record. The next day there were flowers. This is not consistent with evolution through minute incremental changes over millions of years to evolve a new life form. The neo-Darwinists’ theory of natural selection is fundamentally wrong and not sustained by the scientific evidence. However, Darwin and Wallace were correct to conclude that species evolve or descend from previously existing species. Dr. Darwin proved this with his pigeons, some of which he boiled and then examined their skeletal structures. All domestic pigeons derive from the blue rock dove (Columba Livia). This biological evolution – common ancestry of all life forms on Earth -- is real. Darwin’s and Wallace’s thesis that all life shares common ancestors was a brilliant scientific discovery and is proved today by the convergence of the entire scientific and fossil record, including paleontology, molecular biology, genetics, mitochondrial DNA, Y-chromosome DNA, comparative anatomy and physiology, biogeography, geology and archaeology.

Therefore, I am a biological evolutionist in terms of the common ancestry of all species (or pretty close to common ancestry; but there was not one single RNA strand from which all life emerged). But I advance the position that science points (not theology points, not philosophy points, but science points) to the workings of an external force – some force external to Earth and the cosmos. The WMAP team findings from this NASA probe at the L2 LaGrange point are verifiable scientific propositions. What they mean is open to debate. But they cannot be ignored.

Can the existence of a Judaeo-Christian God be proved from an analysis of the Big Bang or from DNA studies? No, not one way or the other. What can be demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence from microbiology and astrophysics, taken together - from all the scientific data as a whole – is that natural selection cannot possibly be the correct answer for the emergence of life or the origins of the species that make up this planet’s biodiversity.

Earth really is 4.54 billion years old. But what caused the Big Bang? And what caused complex life to develop on Earth but nowhere else in this sun system? Why have the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity uncovered no fossils or even so much as a seashell on the red planet although the Rovers have proved that salt seas once covered the landing sites on the Martian surface? Why did the Huygens probe that soft-landed on Saturn’s moon Titan last January 14th discover no life? Why are three-quarters of the surface of Earth covered with liquid water? Why is the microwave background radiation from the Big Bang, observed by NASA's WMAP satellite uniform in all directions to one part in 100,000? Why is there matter at all? Why is there energy at all? Why is there light?

These are some of the fundamental questions that need to be considered in making sense of biological evolution. What we need is more and better science, not more ideology from either side in the debate. I continue to believe that science is the best hope for finding the answers.

With best wishes,

Sincerely,

John Umana, Ph.D., J.D.
Washington, D.C.
202-244-7961
jumanabeth@aol.com

2 Comments:

Blogger John Umana said...

John Umana EMAIL EXCHANGE with scientist NP (unidentified herein)

January 18, 2006

Hello John,

A pleasure meeting you yesterday at the GL seminar, and thanks for taking
the time in writing to inform me more fully of your views.

Certainly it's reasonable in considering the early Earth (4+ Ga) to expect
that a presumed prebiotic chemical 'soup,' whether it be surficial or
sub-surface, would have been exposed to much higher levels of ambient
radiations than our own familiar everyday exposure levels/background.
While anything to do with 'radiation' might be readily assumed by many in
the general public to be necessarily deleterious to all living organisms
under all circumstances, and while members of the general public might be
convinced to extend such a conclusion to include any-and-all scientific
origins-of-life scenarios, the expected higher radiation levels in Hadean
times do not constitute the kind of 'sudden death, dead-end' for prebiotic
chemistry that has understandably been worrying to you.

Prebiotic chemists consider all manner of physical and chemical conditions
that could reasonably be expected to have been possible on the early
Earth, certainly including the different types of radiations and expected
higher radiation levels, and where natural radioactive sources (e.g.,
Uranium cations in minerals) have traditionally been considered as
potentially highly convenient sources of energetic radiations towards
affecting chemical change; to think especially of the breaking of
covalent bonds within organic molecules leading to particular molecular
rearrangements (of the atoms and valence eletrons) that might otherwise be
difficult to achieve or account for dark-thermally.

Energetic radiations are readily accepted, of course, as causations of
point mutations in nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) that will have presumably
contributed (along with various other mutation mechanisms) towards blindly
driving the evolutionary process here on Earth. But I understand from
your email meessage that evolutionary mechanisms are not what has
primarily been worrying you. Your primary concern is that higher
radiation levels in the Hadean would necessarily frustrate any-and-all
scientific origins-of-life scenarios.

As I tried to get across yesterday, the field of prebiotic chemistry has
historically been very poorly funded, both here in the US and around the
world. Until the vision and advent of NASA's exobiology/astrobiology push
in the mid-1990s, it was difficult for academic researchers to secure the
money (and thus the luxury of free time in the lab) to pursue fundamental
researches aimed at contributing towards solving the origin-of-life
problem in Chemistry. The upshot is that orthodox origins-of-life
researchers do not feel, at this stage, that we've explored all avenues,
exhausted all possibilities, or pursued all suggested leads towards coming
up with potential and plausible solutions to the problem.

There is thus no urgently felt need in the orthodox scientific
origins-of-life community for various hypotheses that might be seen as
promoting forms of vitalistic, creationist or 'intelligent design'
arguments regarding the causation of the phenomenon of life on Earth (or
elsewhere). From Nobel laureates down to high school biology teachers,
most scientists feel that an origins-of-life breakthrough in Chemistry is
only a matter of time. And we can each hope to read that peer-reviewed
paper in our lifetime.

If you'll forgive my technologically crude method, I've responded further
(below) by making breaks in your text and inserting what I hope will be
helpful comments/information. Interactions like ours help me in that I
can stop what I'm doing for an hour or two and try to look at the
difficult big-picture questions that you're grappling with, hoping that my
comments will be helpful to you in some small way. I hope you'll be free
to attend Professor Hazen's upcoming talk at the Smithsonian Institution
(Tues. Jan. 24th, 6:30 p.m.); Prof. Hazen being one of the world's
foremost astrobiologists.

Again many thanks for having taken the time to write me.

Sincerely,
Nick.

January 18, 2006

Thanks, Nick, for your energetic responses and enormously insightful comments. These are a great help to me in trying to understand the broad questions. Perhaps you might consider a paper?

I do agree with you that these paramount scientific questions as to the origins of life, studied seriously perhaps only in the last 15 years, have not received the proper levels of funding. Yes, I do plan to attend Dr. Bob Hazen's talk at the Smithsonian on Janaury 24th. Though I disagree with some of the positions he has staked out, I am fascinated that the scientific community is coming to grips with the fundamental questions of terrestrial biology and astrobiology.

You note my challenge to 'natural selection.' This is a huge topic and lots of Ph.D's have staked their careers on its alleged verification. Yet natural selection does not begin to explain origin of any species (putting aside inter-species DNA recombination through mating). I have enormous respect for Charles Darwin's theories conceived in the 1800's before the Mendelian laws of heredity were known. But we're not at that point any longer. Darwin was wrong on this specific score, and it's time to move on.

The genetic studies published in November 2002 in Science by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden and other scientists provide new evidence against natural selection as the mechanism that gives rise to origin of new species. These mt-DNA studies show that all breeds of domestic dogs evolved from a single gene pool of a small group of gray wolves in East Asia about 15,000 years ago. This small group of East Asian gray wolves were the prototypes from which dogs and over the years all breeds of dogs evolved. Of the numerous breeds of dog, today only a few even resemble their common ancestor, the East Asian prototype gray wolves. By 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, 10 "progenitor breeds" of dog had been created. It took a further 5000 to 3000 years to evolve the 300 or so pure breeds known today. Most dog breeds were created within the last 500 years, as human civilization moved into third gear.

Why didn't wolves in North America evolve into dogs, or European wolves turn into dogs one fine day? What happened to ‘natural selection’ in North America or Europe? Had ‘natural selection’ been the mechanism responsible for the origin of dog breeds, then dogs in North America would have evolved from North American gray wolves. But they did not. Dogs in Europe would have evolved from gray wolves in Europe. But they did not. This genetic data is significant new evidence that tends to be disprobative of ‘natural selection’ as the supposed mechanism for evolution or origin of species. Something far different was going on here. But what? That's the difficult one.

Why have the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity uncovered no fossils or even so much as a single seashell on the red planet although the Rovers demonstrate that salt seas once covered portions of the Martian surface? What happened to natural selection on Mars -- or anywhere else in this sun system? Why did the Huygens probe that landed on Saturn’s moon Titan last year on January 14th discover no indicia of life? Why are three-quarters of the surface of Earth covered with liquid water but no where else in this sun system? Is this all coincidence, or are we missing something? How long should it take for the orangutans in the Great Ape House a few miles down Connecticut Avenue from us, a species already 14 million years old, to evolve into chatty people or to start building cities? Forgive me for thinking it's not going to happen.

Whatever the right answers are to these dreadfully difficult questions, natural selection is not among them. Something else is going on when it comes to new species emergence or the emergence of life. Natural selection results in disorganization, it results in entropy -- not evolution into higher species or a community of brilliant scientists at the Geophysical Lab.

I hope you guys can figure all this out! The meticulous work of Dr. Lindsay and others investigating the Australian chert and other locations is absolutely awe-inspiring to me. Wish I could be there with ya'all.

Best regards,

John

January 19, 2006

Hi John,

I'm not an expert in this field by any means. I simply (and frugally)
struggle after viable solutions to curious unsolved problems that intrigue
me. I'm not a biologist, and I haven't read the Savolainen (2002) paper
you mention. But having read your message describing the appearance of 11
breeds of dogs about 15,000 years ago from an original stock of East Asian
gray wolves, I'm confused as to why it should be assumed that this has to
have occurred by some means other than deliberate domestic selection
practices by human beings. I assume (and will certainly check with the
next anthropologist I meet) that groups/tribes of Homo sapiens were in
that region at that time, and I think it's a mistake to assume that
primitive peoples were any less curious, clever or inventive than modern
peoples. Why couldn't various of these groups/tribes have experimented
with a domestic breeding selection practice towards a
faster/stronger/hairier/sturdier/bigger/shorter kind of animal, eventually
discovering several breeds of dogs?

Sincerely,
Nick.

January 19, 2006
Thanks. Yes, humans (Homo sapiens) were in the region (East China) at that time (15,000 years ago). Homo erectus, a common ancestor of our species, was in that region (China and Java) some 1.8 million years ago. It is interesting that the evolution of prototype dogs occurred during the last great Ice Age, when humans were slowly migrating across the Bering Strait into North America at least along the Pacific rim, then free from glaciation. An interesting question is whether there was a connection between the evolution of dogs and human migration. I believe there might have been.


Regards,

John



January 19, 2006

Hi John,

So if there's a timeline overlap between the presence of Homo species in
East Asia and the possibility of their having stumbled on the practicality
of selectively breeding from wolf stock, thereby being the ones who likely
discovered several different types of derivative animal (i.e.,
domestically useful dogs), then surely the 2002 Swedish finding you cited
in your last message cannot constitute a fundamental criticism or disproof
of Darwinian natural selection, can it? The simplest explanation is
probably that the 11 dog breeds stemming from East Asian gray wolf stock
constitute an excellent (and a very early) example of domestic selection
by what were essentially human beings. As to your question regarding
wolves/dogs in North America, I don't know when Homo species are first
recorded as being present in North America. The European wolf/dog
question is interesting, but I'm not a biologist and am not informed as to
when dog breeds made their first appearance in continental Europe. I
cannot believe that proto-Europeans were any less curious, clever or
inventive than their East Asian cousins; after all, 'boys will be boys'
is a worldwide truth!

Anyhow, given the seeming likelihood of domestic selection in East Asia,
I'm missing the link you made in your last message, where you cited the
wolf/dog paper as somehow disproving natural selection, but possibly I've
misunderstood the reasoning that led you to take the 2002 paper as a
convincing disproof of natural selection: "genetic studies published in
November 2002 in Science by Peter Savolainen ... provide new evidence
against natural selection as the mechanism that gives rise to origin of
new species."].

Sincerely,
Nick.

January 19, 2006

Interesting scenario you have posited, Nick. So on your spectre, these nomad hunter-gatherers roaming about East China got into scientific selective breeding programs 15,000 years ago and decided to domesticate the gray wolves who perhaps were following them about? (Forgive me for just being cute here.)

The point I was hoping to make is this -- had NS been the correct explanation for evolution of a new species, then isn't it odd that every single dog on Earth today evolved from this single gene pool of a small group of mutated wolves 15,000 years ago in a single (or small number of) location(s) on the globe? The dog DNA studies provide an extremely important new model for how evolution operates; and once science catches up with similar studies on other species, we should find that the same is true of zebras and other animals.

Is the refutation of NS proved conclusively by the mt-DNA studies to which I cited? No, it is not. This is a big topic, and other evidence would have to be broght to bear on the question. Does it tend to be disprobative? Yes. I think that's what I had said. These studies tend to be disprobative of NS. These mitochondrial DNA studies should serve as a huge red flag flying briskly in the breeze to those who insist, without substantiation, that NS is the mechanism for how new species emerge and how life emerged on this planet in the first place shy of 4 Ga. NS is conjecture, not observational science. No one, not Dr. Darwin or anybody else, has ever observed NS lead to the evolution of a single species in the 4 billion years that Earth has been biotic. (Recall my point about our friendly orangutans down Connecticut Avenue from us, already 14 million years old. What hasn't NS led them to start building cities? Instead, for millions upon millions of years, they reproduce according to their DNA. Incidentally, our species, Earth's intelligent species, is merely 200,000 years old.) Something else is going on. The explanation is not NS. That's all I'm saying. Figuring out exactly what that 'something else' is, of course, is the real bitch.

Before taking a wrong turn and becoming a lawyer, I was a National Science Foundation student in biology/physiology in my youth, and later studied analytic philosophy at the University of Michigan. Perhaps with my philosophical training in mind, I’d like first to draw an all-important distinction. A great deal of the debate, sometimes rather heated, on evolution suffers from confusion because lots of scientists fail to distinguish two different senses of the term ‘evolution.’

MEANING NO. 1: In one sense, evolution means that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor (and that different species share common ancestors, such as for example the hippopotamus, dolphin and whale share a common ancestor, as I was greatly surprised to read last year). It maintains that all organisms on earth are descended from a single common ancestor. Darwin’s theory that living things evolved or descended from common ancestors is true and is proved by the convergence of the sciences.

MEANING NO. 2: But ‘evolution’ in Darwin’s sense is taken to mean that a new species originates as a result of "natural selection" -- random incremental mutations over millions of years. In this full-blown biological and Darwinian sense, the term ‘evolution’ means a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely from natural means. Darwin’s evolution posits that life arose on its own out of inanimate chemical compounds and has gradually evolved over millions of years. Darwin’s theory is that all complex species and organs such as the eye and animal instincts evolved by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations ….” (1859, p. 459)

It is this second meaning of evolution, the theory of NS, that is false. I am saying, first, that it has never been scientifically substantiated -- notwithstanding that if we took a poll today of all science departments at universities around the world, probably 99.9% of scientists would say they believe that NS is the explanation for the emergence of life and the origin of new species. Just because lots of people believe something that is false does nothing to render it true.

The position that NS accounts for Origin of the Species was always the flimsiest conjectural theories to begin with; it was Dr. Darwin's wild guess, indeed a most interesting scientific hunch back in the 1800's. As I said in my first email, NS is a true force of nature. NS accounts for such things as pesticide resistance of insects (e.g., the mosquitos that survive an application of a given pesticide eventually develop an immunity to it over time), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Living things have a certain level of adaptability on their own.

At most, natural selection -- perhaps best known by common folk as CHANCE -- shows that, for example, finches on the Galapagos Islands with larger bills have a better chance of survival in a drought. (The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Wiener citing the research of Peter and Marilyn Grant.) But no finch ever evolves into a Bald Eagle due to NS … and never will. Likewise, the orangutans in the Great Ape House do not evolve into chatty people and never will. They have had enough time to evolve, if time were the requisite ingredient for evolution, as most scientists spuriously seem to think. But it is neither time nor chance that is the causative mechanism for evolution. Orangutans continue to reproduce according to their genome and have for 14 million years. In contrast, our species, this planet's intelligent species, is merely 200,000 years old.

I'll leave you with this thought. The Giant pandas evolved from black bears in China around 23 to 18 mya. Could the answer possibly be that NS led some black bears to give up meat, become vegetarians and take to munching on bamboo shoots all day long? Whatever the correct answer may be, it certainly cannot be NS.

John


January 20, 2006

Thanks again, and as to your question --

Q. But supposing that the contrary came to pass, and eventually there was total,
undeniable and incontrovertible proof that organic biological evolution by
natural selection has been, and is, unfolding/progressing in an utterly
cold, meaningless and pointless way, in a Universe absolutely devoid of
any deity or supernatural force, ever. How would you react to such
knowledge if you were suddenly faced with it?

A.Science is science, and that would then be the truth on your supposition. We have to be guided by where the scientific data leads us, not where we – you, me or anyone -- wants it to lead us. (Wasn’t that the problem with the “weapons of mass destruction” assertion?) Therefore, I in principle adopt every scientific paper ever written assuming it is accurate. But even when we’re not sure what the scientific truth is, we can at least begin by eliminating false answers.

My point, in part, is that we, the intelligent species on this planet, are capable of knowing far more through scientific investigation and analysis than we suspect. We have learned more about cosmology in the last 10 years than we have in the previous entire history of mankind.

With all best wishes,

John

January 20, 2006

Hi John,

I guess you were writing this message to Prof. Facchini while I was
writing my response to your previous email to me. You're struggling with
the kinds of difficult and basic questions that motivate scientists to go
on exploring and theorizing about how the Universe is, while keeping an
open and rational mind. There are no short-cuts to becoming a scientist,
and the scientific process is (as I'm assured by those wiser than I)
self-correcting. So if, as you maintain, natural selection is not the
best possible explanation for the origins of species on Earth, we can be
reasonably sure that better potential solutions will naturally come to the
fore, over time.

In my responses to your messages to me over the last couple days, I've
tried to address as many of your points, concerns and arguments where I
feel that I might have something helpful to contribute for your
consideration. The break/insert method is the most efficient for me
towards achieving this end, in-between other activities, and I apologise
again for its crudeness. I read your dogs/wolves and finches/eagles
arguments again in the text below, so I don't think I have anything to add
to my previous responses to these.

Having tried to be helpful to you in your ongoing quest for truth and
understanding, I'd like to ask for your help in one particular question
that I have: If those people who would maintain vitalist, creationist
and/or I.D. kinds of explanations were somehow proved correct, they'd no
doubt be the happiest people on Earth; cymbals and drums, etc. But
supposing that the contrary came to pass, and eventually there was total,
undeniable and incontrovertible proof that organic biological evolution by
natural selection has been, and is, unfolding/progressing in an utterly
cold, meaningless and pointless way, in a Universe absolutely devoid of
any deity or supernatural force, ever. How would you react to such
knowledge if you were suddenly faced with it?

Sincerely,
Nick.



January 24, 2006

Thanks, Nick, I too hope that a fully demonstrable 'start-to-finish'
model solution for the origin-of-life problem in Chemistry can be achieved. Why would someone not want that? I believe it is achievable. We are just beginning to scratch the surface. I intend to attend Bob Hazen's talk tonight. I hear all this dreadfully emotional 'evolution' debate in the press as well as in courtrooms (e.g., the recent decision relating to the Dover, PA schools). My policy is to shy away from ideologues, whether in politics, science, the law or in any other discipline. The Spanish Inquisition never fostered better science, and neither did the Kremlin in the days of the Cold War. I don't understand why it took my Church so many years to take Galileo Galilei out of the doghouse. This treatment of science in centuries past was dead wrong. This, I think, helps to explain the bitter feelings that many bear towards any consideration of any theory other than NS. I for one am always in favor of science and at least trying to piece together model solutions. Yet one has to keep one's mind open.

All the best,

John Umana

January 24, 2006

Hi John,

Certainly the rate of our acquisition of scientific knowledge has been
both tremendous and accelerating during our own lifetimes. Sadly though,
and while it pains me to have to say it, it is a very grave mistake to
assume that one can "... in principle adopt every scientific paper ever
written assuming it is accurate." Speaking from personal experience
during my time here in the US, one cannot assume that peer-reviewed
scientific papers published in whatever field and in whatever journal are
properly, competently, and thoroughly reviewed before publication.

Having hard-won this realisation for myself, I've had the privilege of
having this conclusion confirmed to me in private conversations with
several US National Academicians. The reality is that, as a scientist, I
have followed the example of several people I admire in quite deliberately
endeavouring to cultivate friendships with good and competent persons
well-versed and trained in each of the fundamental scientific disciplines
relevant to my own research interests. It is then a simple matter, on
coming across a possibly relevant paper in the literature, to give one of
my friends a welcome phone call to discuss the accuracy, competency, and
(if it passes on basic muster) potential implications following from the
particular piece under discussion.

Over the seven years that I've been here, I could easily cite a number of
'junk' papers by incompetent scientific investigators, who haven't
published retractions after having had their errors pointed out to them by
a junior, owing to both their vanity and their fear of adversely affecting
chances of obtaining/renewing the funding grants on which their
students/postdocs/technicians (and reputation) live. But, to look on the
bright side, so long as the lead author lives, one can always hope that
s/he'd eventually do the right thing by the literature and by her/his
colleagues and eventually get around to publishing a retraction.

Practically, and if anything, one might read a guarded emendation in a
subsequent paper if s/he continues research on the same topic. Retraction
rarely happens, and 'wrong' papers stand in the literature until someone
else subsequently works in that area, eventually publishing their own work
which then supersedes the erroneous in people's citations (and worldview).
Such constitutes much of the practical reality of the publicly-touted
'self-correction' mechanism operating in the scientific process today.
Even sadder than in the case of astrobiology or pure Chemistry will be the
implications of cases of unretracted junk papers standing in the medical
research literature, while patients lying in sickbeds and well-intentioned
funding agencies sadly assume that politics doesn't affect the scientific
process through the awarding of research grants in the effort to find new
treatments and better understanding of diseases.

Anyhow, I don't think I can have phrased my previous question to you well
enough. You are fundamentally concerned with the probably unknowable
historical problem of how life did (read 'did' in italics) originate on
the early Earth; whereas I am concerned with coming into knowledge (by
whatever scientific route) of potential and plausible solutions to the
technical problems of how life could (italics) have originated on the
early Earth in manners fully consistent with the laws of Physics and
Chemistry.

So things might boil down to me being a 'could have,' while you are a 'did
in fact.' I don't think we'll ever know the historical truth about how
life did in fact originate on the early Earth, but I hope that
prebiotically plausible 'proto-life in vitro' will be achieved in our
lifetime. So even if we achieve a fully demonstrable 'start-to-finish'
model solution for the origin-of-life problem in Chemistry, there's
nothing historical in that, so I presume that proponents of
ID/creationist/vitalist kinds of arguments wouldn't be too upset, right?

Sincerely,
Nick.

January 26, 2006

Nick,

Certainly no chemist or molecular biologist has yet succeeded in
demonstrating in vitro a prebiotically plausible 'start-to-finish'
mechanism for the formation of oligomeric molecules that could reasonably
be considered to be the likely progenitors (upstream in
evolutionary/geologic time) of either of the biological nucleic acids.
But you are absolutely correct in thinking that such a breakthrough, if
and when it comes, would land a heavy blow on proponents of
ID/creationism/vitalism. (quoting one of your comments)
Know that my hopes are with the Geophysical Lab in this daunting task. As far as I'm concerned, the academic debate can take a far, far back seat to the urgent task of curing genetic disorders.

All the best,

John

January 31, 2006

Nick,

In my last email (27 January), I referred to Peter and Marilyn Grant, the scientists working on evolution of finches on the Galapagos Islands. I should have said Peter and Rosemary Grant. The Grants are the subjects of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Beak of the Finch. They have conducted fascinating research for 20 years into evolution, ecology and behavior among Darwin's Finches of the Galápagos Islands. Distinguished Visiting Fellows in the College of Creative Studies, the Grants are professors at Princeton University.

I referred to the Ediacara flora but meant fauna. (I learned about these fascinating fauna from you and checked out the exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.)

All the best,

John

Compilation of our comments from emails:

Interesting scenario you have posited, Nick. So on your spectre, these nomad hunter-gatherers roaming about East China got into scientific selective breeding programs 15,000 years ago and decided to domesticate the gray
wolves who perhaps were following them about?

[NP: Not 'scientific' selective breeding according to any planned program,
envisaging more of a trial-and-error 'try-it-and-see-what-we-get' type of
selective breeding, as pigeon and goldfish fanciers have amply
demonstrated. Why assume uncivilized tribal people were stupid,
unimaginative, or lacking in curiosity about the world around them and the
possibility of affecting fascinating and useful changes on their
surroundings? Why couldn't they have been intelligent enough to see the
benefits of having good guard/hunting/sledding wolf-dogs?]

{JU comment: Humans back 15,000 years ago were indeed extremely intelligent – no reason to suggest they were not just as intelligent as humans of today in terms of innate analytical ability. They were hunter-gatherers, and in some areas people were actually beginning primitive farming. Still, I do not find persuasive the suggestion that human in effect evolved dogs. Yet, let me add this. In terms of your suggestion as to the intelligence of earlier man, it is noteworthy that the Kebaran culture in the Levant (18,000 to 10,500 B.C.) developed small geometric microliths to farm. They were small groups of highly mobile hunter-gatherers. They inhabited upland areas in the summer, but lived in caves and rock shelters near lowland lakes in the winter. They developed into the Natufian culture. Both the Kebaran and Natufian cultures began the shift from hunting to some primitive farming possibly as far back as 20,000 years ago. Natufian culture was harvesting wild cereals at Ohalo by Lake Galilee, Israel by 17,000 B.C. The peoples who had settled in the Levant formed early farming communities developed about 10,000 B.C. or earlier at Jericho. With this history of human ingenuity, it would not be surprising that humans would have sought to enlist wolves to their aid in hunting 15,000 years ago.}

The point I was hoping to make is this -- had natural selection (NS) been the correct explanation for evolution of a new species, then isn't it odd that every single dog on Earth today evolved …

[NP: It isn't odd at all: dogs didn't evolve by NS from a single wolf stock,
they will have been bred from a single wolf stock by domestic selection
practices (i.e., 'DS' is not the same thing as NS). Dogs aren't an
example of evolution in the natural world, because natural selective
pressures are deliberately being 'kept off the playing field' by the
humans in charge of the breeding trials/experiments.

All of the different breeds of dogs around us today, like all of the
different breeds of pigeons and ornamental goldfish, exemplify the
tremendous genetic (and hence phenotypic) potential of which the
phenomenon of life is made capable through random nucleobase mutation in
nucleic acids. It is the cleverness of human beings in choosing to
selectively breed organisms that plays on this tremendous genetic
potential by setting boundaries as to what is deemed a 'desirable' or an
esthetically 'acceptable' organism, thus preserving and promoting the
particular genetic variation that was put in our hands by a combination of
chance mutation and subjective human judgment over time. Natural
selection is 'blind' and is without an opinion, which is exactly why it's
eminently the cleverest and most believable explanation yet put up by the
human intellect, and why NS appeals so strongly to the intuition of
scientists across all formal disciplines.]

{JU comment: Interesting hypothesis. I have stated earlier that NS is a true force of nature. I further agree with your statement that NS is blind. Yet the evolution of the giant panda or the dog breeds was not blind; it was magnificent. NS – a.k.a. CHANCE -- leads to disorganization, not to new and magnificent species. Is it really tenable that penning wild wolves in your backyard, feeding them Purina Dog Chow, and letting them sleep on your sofa, will evolve wolves into Chihuahuas, Rottweilers, Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Bulldogs, English Sheepdogs, Bull Terriers, Pointers, Great Danes, Italian Greyhounds, Irish Setters, English Setters, Dalmatians, Collies, Pekingese, Saint Bernards, Huskies or Dachshunds? That’s what makes them “man’s best friend”? Then we should be able to duplicate the evolution of Chihuahuas from gray wolves, no? But no one has.}

… from this single gene pool of a small group of mutated wolves 15,000 years ago in a single (or small number of) location(s) on the globe? The dog DNA studies provide an extremely important new model for how evolution operates; and once science catches up with similar studies on other species, we should find that the same is true of zebras and other animals.

[NP: Zebras probably aren't a good example for us to consider here because
we'd get into horses/donkeys/etc. But evolution in the natural world has
thrown up all manner of weird and wonderful organisms over the course of
geologic time, as is clearly evidenced in the paleontological record, such
as the fantastic fossils of Tribrachidium in the Ediacara biota.
Certainly Cambrian paleontologists have been amazed at some of the
surprising organisms they've managed to piece together from fossil
fragments (e.g., among the Burgess Shale assemblage), but no-one says "Oh,
that can't have existed;" we simply (and happily!) accept what the
tangible evidence from the rock record reveals. The phenomenon of organic
life is clearly capable of tremendous variety, and there just isn't any
viable scientific hypothesis to contest with NS as the mechanism by which
the phenomenon gets to blindly explore this potential over time.]

{JU comment: In view of our discussion, I made a visit last weekend to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. On the first floor, there is an exhibit of various Ediacara flora dating back to 583 mya, + or – 5 m. These flora are amazing creatures, surprising and perhaps even beautiful, millions of years before the Cambrian explosion. They represent a big jump from single cell to multi-celled organisms. It would be interesting to discover what conditions, gamma ray levels or whatever, had changed when they emerged.}

Is the refutation of NS proved conclusively by the mt-DNA studies
to which I cited? No, it is not. This is a big topic, and other evidence
would have to be brought to bear on the question. Does it tend to be
disprobative? Yes. I think that's what I had said. These studies tend to be
disprobative of NS.

[NP: I don't see how you arrived at the disprobity conclusion. Truly
scientific hypotheses are welcoming of being tested by any rational means,
and NS is no different. But we're dealing with immense stretches of
geologic time when considering the evolution of life in the natural world
via NS. Dogs-from-wolves or goldfish-from-carp over humanly convenient
periods of years simply isn't evolution by NS, nor are these examples of
artificially accelerated evolution either; they're simply not examples of
evolution proper, period.

Observing the timeline of NS among multi-celled organisms is conveniently
possible through considering the geological and paleontological record of
life on Earth. The microbial world is still being explored, and certainly
holds the promise of providing exciting insights into the development of
organisms over time in response to natural selection pressures. So, yes
research on NS continues, but we're certainly open to any other
alternative rational explanation for the tremendous variety of living
things on our planet. Vitalism, creationism and 'I.D.' types of arguments
simply aren't rational explanations; they're no more helpful to
scientific inquiry than ancient myths.

Scientific explanations are humankind's hard-won intellectual treasure in
a long and ongoing struggle against myth. Doing cutting-edge science
takes determination and fortitude on the part of the investigators.
Mythical explanations of observable phenomena such as thunder and
lightning are clearly wrong, certainly more poetic than Science, but
nonetheless accepted by every civilized and educated person as factually
wrong. I don't see how scientific explanations towards the origin of life
itself, or for the appearance of different life-forms on the Earth over
time, should be struggled against so vehemently by people who seem
absolutely terrified of what it would mean to them and their view of
themselves if Science succeeds in satisfactorily explaining these as
natural phenomena.]

{JU comment: NS is a theory of causation, that is, the causative mechanism that seeks to explain how species emerge from common ancestors. You’re right that there are folks out there that are “absolutely terrified” by Science, but I am not among them. I welcome scientific research and investigation, as agree that it’s our best hope of understanding all of this. But a pro-science stance cannot be an endorsement of NS, which, respectfully, is bad science. Your view that “Dogs-from-wolves or goldfish-from-carp over humanly convenient periods of years simply isn't evolution by NS, nor are these examples of artificially accelerated evolution either; they're simply not examples of
evolution proper, period.” I’m not sure why you say that these are not examples of evolution.}

These mitochondrial DNA studies should serve as a huge red flag
flying briskly in the breeze to those who insist, without
substantiation, that NS is the mechanism for how new species emerge and how life emerged on this planet in the first place shy of 4 Ga. NS is conjecture, not
observational science. No one, not Dr. Darwin or anybody else, has ever observed NS
lead to the evolution of a single species in the 4 billion years that Earth went biotic.

[NP: If anyone has a better rational explanation than Mr. Darwin's and Mr.
Wallace's for a mechanism towards the existence of all the wonderful
varieties of living things on the Earth, let him or her speak up. All
that's required of any suggested mechanism that might outdo NS in its
explanatory power is that it be presented without the need of invoking any
vitalistic, creationist, 'intelligent design,' or other no-better-or-more-helpful-than-myth causational arguments. Do this, and it'll be my privilege to begin the applause.]

{JU: Agree with you that no one should be ‘terrified’ of scientific data coming out this way or that. Science is science is science. I’m not interested in mythical explanations either. I’m in favor of more science and analysis, not less. I also understand that origins research and astrobiology are just getting under way. Though I am a person of faith, I do not believe that Scripture was intended as a science textbook; it cannot be relied on for scientific explanation, in my view. All I’ve tried to suggest here is that NS is bad science: it’s overly simplistic to begin with as a theory of origin and fails to jive with observation. I believe it may even be feasible to synthesize basic nucleotides (one day way down the line) from a prebiotic environment. It may just be a question of finding the right chemistry. Still, that does not prove NS. As I’ve said, it’s a heck of a lot easier knocking down a theory than to come up with the correct answer. That is, it’s far easier to eliminate false answers than to figure out the correct explanation. If pressed, though, I would refer you to my theory, http://www.booksurge.com/author.php3?accountID=GPUB02608&affiliateID=A000932

But the refutation of NS as theory of origin does not hang on affirmative proof of the theory I have advanced. The refutation of the chance-mutations-theory is logically separate.}

(Recall my point about our friendly orangutans down Connecticut Avenue from us, already 14 million years old. What hasn't NS led them to start building cities? Instead, for millions upon millions of years, they reproduce according to their DNA.

[NP: DNA in the form of orangutans in the wild occupies a comfortable
ecological niche, and doesn't appear to have been under any great NS
pressure towards surviving by shifting to another niche. Captivity means
veterinarian-controlled selective breeding, and so the orangutans might
perhaps be on the verge of joining our dogs-from-wolves and
goldfish-from-carp examples of domestic selection.]

{JU comment: But orangutans have been around long before humans ever were, so we really can’t blame humans for stunting their evolution, which most certainly would have occurred by now had theory of NS been sufficient explanation of origins of species. Again, this is a fact that tends to be disprobative of NS. The fact that we have not found biotic chemistry anywhere else is this sun system – especially on Mars where 70% of scientists polled believed we would find life there -- through this date is another such fact that tends to be disprobative of NS. Something else is going on is all I’m saying.}

Incidentally, our species, Earth's intelligent species, is merely 200,000 years old.) Something else is going on. The explanation is not NS. That's all I'm saying. Figuring out exactly what that 'something else' is, of course, is the real bitch.

[NP: But in the absence of any other rational suggestion as to how we came to
be here, the scientific community will stay with what makes agreed and
basic sense to scientists across all branches of Science; NS simply
'rings true' to scientific intuition among biologists, chemists,
physicists and mathematicians. The simplest, most logical
explanation for how we came to be here is that which first occurred to
Char. R. Darwin (Sept. 1838) and (independently, some 20 years later) to
Alfr. R. Wallace (Febr. 1858).]

{JU comment: I applaud the common ancestry theorists. Microbiology proves they were right. That’s an enormous leap in human understanding of biological evolution, and one can only be in awe of the paintaking process that led to these theories. Biological evolution is real and accounts for the stunningly magnificent biodiversity we find on this planet. But how and why evolution (sense no. 1) occurs is still an open question. Indeed, why is there anything? Why is there matter in the first place? These are proper questions for scientists to consider as well. They are bigger and deeper questions than we’ve looked at before, scientists, philosophers, whomever.}

I was a NationalScience Foundation student in biology/physiology in my youth, and later studied analytic philosophy at the University of Michigan. Perhaps with my
philosophical training in mind, I’d like first to draw an all-important
distinction. A great deal of the debate, sometimes rather heated, on evolution suffers
from confusion because lots of scientists fail to distinguish two different
senses of the term ‘evolution.’
MEANING NO. 1: In one sense, evolution means that all life on Earth
shares a common ancestor (and that different species share common ancestors,
such as for example the hippopotamus, dolphin and whale share a common
ancestor, as I was greatly surprised to read last year). It maintains that all
organisms on earth are descended from a single common ancestor.
Darwin’s theory that living things evolved or descended from common ancestors is true and is proved by the convergence of the sciences.

[NP: Scientific inquiry seeks unifying themes, and evolution is such a theme.
So meanings '1' and '2' are really part-and-parcel of the same thing. But
yes, it seems likely that all life on Earth derives from one ancestral
life-form; possibly, but not necessarily, deriving from a single
individual micro-organism.]

{JU comment: Though I am in agreement with common ancestry, I don’t believe that all life derived from a single ancestral microbe. The ancestral life forms 3.9 Ga that evolved into plants and those that evolved into animals were separate, may I propose. There were differentiations right from the outset from the very first day of life’s initial emergence on this habitable planet. One day the sun rose and there was no life on Earth. The next day, at the tail end of the Heavy Bombardment, there were microbes in a variety of locations on Earth, sheltered areas from the UV rays and also beneath the seas. I don’t believe that the black smokers were the first situs on Earth for the emergence as some have theorized. There were enough obstacles to the emergence of life that far back, as we’ve discussed (gamma ray levels, UV rays, high temperatures and wild temperature swings close to what we see on the Moon, the atmospheric mix to name a few), so why not shoot for the easiest spots first.}

MEANING NO. 2: But ‘evolution’ in Darwin’s sense is taken to
mean that a new species originates as a result of "natural selection" -- random
incremental mutations over millions of years. In this full-blown
biological and Darwinian sense, the term ‘evolution’ means a process whereby life
arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely from natural
means. Darwin’s evolution posits that life arose on its own out of inanimate chemical
compounds and has gradually evolved over millions of years. Darwin’s
theory is that all complex species and organs such as the eye and animal
instincts evolved by the “accumulation of innumerable slight variations ….” (1859, p. 459) It is this second meaning of evolution, the theory of NS, that is
false.

[NP: Evolution by 'Meaning 2' essentially means random nucleobase mutation in
genomic information as providing an orthodox reductionist and molecular
mechanism for the 'throwing up' of organisms having different
attributes/morphologies/colorings/etc. over time. But we haven't arrived
logically at the conclusion stated above: "... the theory of NS, ... is
false." Not wanting to believe it's probably true, and it's not being
true, are surely two very different things.]

{JU comment: It’s not a question of what I or anyone else wants or does not want. NS is not good science. We need more and better science, not 19th century conjectures.}

I am saying, first, that it has never been scientifically substantiated --
notwithstanding that if we took a poll today of all science departments
at universities around the world, probably 99.9% of scientists would say
they believe that NS is the explanation for the emergence of life and the origin of
new species. Just because lots of people believe something that is false
does nothing to render it true.

[NP: Probably over 99.9% of all educated persons believed the Earth was
immovable at the center of the cosmos before Nicolas Copernicus's and
Galileo Galilei's breakthroughs in firmly placing the Sun at the center of
the solar system. So it's certainly not unheard of in the history of
human thought for the majority to be in the grip of an erroneous belief,
until released from it by human intellect shining brightly. Perhaps you
yourself are similarly in possession of an insight so profound that I'm
just too dense to grasp it. If so, I would beg you to patiently explain
it to me.]

{JU comment: Respectfully, NS is not consistent with scientific observation especially microbiology. It’s not what has occurred since the inception of life on Earth and it’s not occurring now. It lacks the power to explain observed phenomena.}

The position that NS accounts for Origin of the Species was always the
flimsiest conjectural theories to begin with; it was Dr. Darwin's wild
guess, indeed a most interesting scientific hunch back in the 1800's.

[NP: If NS really were a flimsy and wild guess, it would have been
seen-through and discarded, or have been replaced by Science with
something better long ago. Darwin's and Wallace's brilliant conjectural
insight into the biologic workings of Nature has given great intellectual
pleasure to generations of scientists. It seems very likely to be the
basis for the true explanation for the origin of species on Earth. While
we don't feel any urgent or pressing need to have any other fundamental
hypothesis at this time, the scientific community and the world would
certainly laud a brilliant discovery/realisation that pointed us in a new
and unexpected direction. All that's required is that it not invoke any
mythical creator, vitalistic agent, or an alien intelligence.]

{JU comment: Agreed that to question NS is something like questioning the “weapons of mass destruction” mindset back in 2002. NS is a viewpoint that has held sway in the scientific community for a century and a half. Putting all theories of philosophy and cosmology to one side, NS just doesn’t work. It doesn’t explain theory of origins. This makes it a bad theory.}


As I said in my first email, NS is a true force of nature. NS accounts for such things
as pesticide resistance of insects (e.g., the mosquitos that survive an
application of a given pesticide eventually develop an immunity to it over
time), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Living things have a certain level
of adaptability on their own. At most, natural selection -- perhaps best known by common folk as CHANCE -- shows that, for example, finches on the Galapagos Islands with larger bills have a better chance of survival in a drought. (The Beak of the Finch
by Jonathan Wiener citing the research of Peter and Marilyn Grant.) But no
finch ever evolves into a Bald Eagle due to NS and never will.

[NP: Finches and Bald Eagles occupy distinct ecological niches. If we could
click our fingers and extinguish every raptor on Earth, and if we could
then live for the next two or three hundred thousand years, with all other
things being equal, perhaps we'd witness something very interesting as
things (possibly from your stocks of finches) develop towards filling the
empty niches. The phenomenon of life continues to survive blindly,
without caring or knowing what forms it takes over time. The fundamental
molecular biological and biochemical processes survive in whatever
phenotypic guise happens to work. There's nothing mysterious in this view
of life, but I understand that it can be an intellectually frightening
view for psyches attached, for whatever reason, to myth.]

[JU comment: “The phenomenon of life continues to survive blindly,
without caring or knowing what forms it takes over time.” This is in part true. This is a complex issue.

Likewise,the orangutans in the Great Ape House do not evolve into chatty people and
never will.

[NP: See comment above regarding the orangutan's presumably quite stable
ecological niche.]

They have had enough time to evolve, if time were the requisite
ingredient for evolution, as most scientists spuriously seem to think.

[NP: There's nothing 'spurious' in thinking that evolution by NS requires
great periods of time; it's a logical conclusion, not a spurious one.]

But it is neither time nor chance that is the causative mechanism for evolution.
Orangutans continue to reproduce according to their genome and have for
14 million years. In contrast, our species, this planet's intelligent species, is
merely 200,000 years old. I'll leave you with this thought. The Giant pandas evolved from black bears in China around 23 to 18 mya. Could the answer possibly be that NS led some black bears to give up meat, become vegetarians and take to munching on
bamboo shoots all day long?

[NP: Not being a biologist, I'll just accept the panda-from-bear example and
timeline you give. I'd respond by saying that it seems more likely than
not that Giant pandas would have evolved from a bear stock that was
perhaps forced by famine or geographic (Ice Age?) isolation to begin
supplementing their diet with vegetable matter. Would I be surprised by
such or a similar explanation? No. Would I be surprised by a non-NS
explanation? Yes.]

Whatever the correct answer may be, it certainly cannot be NS.

[NP: I cannot see how to arrive logically at the certainty you state here.
You told me you've had philosophical training/experience at the University
of Michigan, but I haven't the benefit of any such training in my own
background, so probably I'm missing a logical link somewhere that might be
plain to you but remains a mystery to me.]

{JU comment: Philosophical training does not give anyone empirical knowledge. That requires investigation and experimentation. It calls for science and more science. I’ve attempted to argue my views more fully in the text to which I cited.}

John Umana

9:27 PM  
Blogger John Umana said...

March 6, 2006

Dear John,

Thank you for your e-mail. It is true that the possible presence of oxygenic
photosynthesis in the Archean is puzzling in light of the GOE during the
Paleoproterozoic. Perhaps the lag time between these events has something to
do with the supercontinent cycle or some turnover period in the mantle. It
therefore appears that the long-term evolution and maintenance of the carbon
cycle, tectonic activity and mantle convection are necessary. Therefore
perhaps for Earth, the oxygenation of the atmosphere was the unavoidable
consequence of an active planet. Could we expect a similar evolution for
extrasolar Earth-like planets?

Regards,
Dominic [last name omitted]

Quoting John Umana:
March 3, 2006

> Dear Dominic Papineau:
>
> I enjoyed your lecture today at the Geophysical Lab. I am quite
> interested in the Great Oxidation Event of about 2.1 Ga between the first
> two great
> glaciations. It seems that that had to occur to permit the emergence of
> multi-celled organisms. But even well before the GOE, stromatolites that
> formed
> as early as 3.45 billion years ago were the product of single-cell bacteria,
> which built up layered mats of sediment in the shallow seas of that time.
> And even before that, single cell microbes were able to link together at the
> bottom of the seas to form chainlike microbial beads, the driving force
> behind
> the oxidation of the oceans and later the planet's atmosphere. From their
> very emergence 3.83 Ga, the microbes were differentiated into what would
> become
> the plant and animal kingdoms and other life forms. It's almost as though
> all of this was somehow planned.
>
> Good luck with your Ph.D.
>
> All the best,
>
> John
>


-------------------------------------------------------------
Department of Geological Sciences and Center for Astrobiology
University of Colorado at Boulder
-------------------------------------------------------------

6:20 PM  

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