Cell Biology's "big bang"

Arthur V. Chadwick (chadwicka@swau.edu)
Tue, 13 Apr 1999 17:27:16 -0700

Interesting contribution from Steve Jones to another listserve:

It seems that in addition to cosmology's "big bang": the sudden origin of
the universe; and zoology's "big bang": the sudden origin of the animal
phyla (see Levinton J.S., "The Big Bang of Animal Evolution", Scientific
American, November 1992, p52); we now have may have cell biology's
"big bang": the sudden origin of the eukaryotes!

Here are some quotes from a recent article in SCIENCE which questions
the reigning Serial Endosymbiotic Theory of the origin of eukaryotes, and
claims that the latest molecular data indicates that they, complete with
nucleus and mitochondrial organelles, originated in "a massive and virtually
simultaneous radiation":

"This emerging picture inferred from mitochondrial genome data is
remarkably congruent with a recent proposal, based on nuclear gene
data, of an unresolved "big bang" radiation of the various eukaryotic
lineages (see below)." (Gray M.W., Burger G. & Lang B.F.,
"Mitochondrial Evolution," Science, Vol. 283, 5 March 1999, p1478).

"The emerging revisionist view of eukaryotic evolution is a scenario
characterized by a massive and virtually simultaneous radiation (big bang)
at the base of the eukaryotic tree, involving virtually all extant eukaryotic
phyla (34)." (Gray M.W., et. al., 1999, p1480).

It even calls this "simultaneous creation":

"Alternative hypotheses describing the origin of eukaryotic cell Lavender
arrows, simultaneous creation of the eukaryotic nucleus (gray) and
mitochondrion (orange) by fusion of a hydrogen-requiring, methanogenic
Archaebacterium (host) with a hydrogen-producing a-Proteobacterium
(symbiont)." (Gray M.W., et. al., 1999, p1480).

The problem with explaining this simultaneous fusion fully naturalistically
why would it happen *only once*? It certainly seems most un-Darwinian and
is indistinguishable from what Geisler calls a "second class miracle":

"It may be that some things are so highly unusual and coincidental that,
when viewed in connection with the moral or theological context in which
they occurred, the label "miracle" is the most appropriate one for the
happening. Let us call this kind of supernaturally guided event a second
class miracle, that is, one whose natural process can be described
scientifically (and perhaps even reduplicated by humanly controlled natural
means) but whose end product in the total picture is best explained by
invoking the supernatural." (Geisler N.L., "Christian Apologetics," 1976,

This new third "big bang" reminds me of another quote I saw in a recent
issue of NATURE:

"Palaeobiologists flocked to these scientific visions of a world in a
state of flux and admixture. But instead of finding the slow, smooth and
progressive changes Lyell and Darwin had expected, they saw in the fossil
records rapid bursts of change, new species appearing seemingly out of
nowhere and then remaining unchanged for millions of years-patterns
hauntingly reminiscent of creation." (Pagel M., "Happy accidents?" Nature,
Vol 397, 25 February 1999, p665).


"...to put a correct view of the universe into people's heads we must first
get an incorrect view out." (Lewontin R., "Billions and Billions of
Demons," review of Sagan C., "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a
Candle in the Dark," New York Review, January 9, 1997, p28)