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evolution-digest Wednesday, April 14 1999 Volume 01 : Number 1407


Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999 20:44:05 -0400
From: Tim Ikeda <>
Subject: Re: Cell Biology's "big bang"

Thanks for the note Art.

> "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).

Cool. I'll have to look at that issue of Science. This would
go a long way toward explaining why it's been so difficult to
find eukaryotes that lack evidence of ever possessing mito-

> The problem with explaining this simultaneous fusion fully
> naturalistically is why would it happen *only once*?

A rare and exceptional event? A filling of a niche?
Why would one expect the formation of a nucleus and
final capture of the mitochondion to be a common, recurring
event? Wouldn't that require some estimate of probabilities
(which is currently beyond our technical capabilities)?
Even the chloroplasts were only captured a few times.

> It certainly seems most un-Darwinian

I'd say that the early eukaryotes must've kicked ass,
evolutionarily speaking. But it's impossible to determine
what the biotic evironment must've been like then.

> and is indistinguishable
> from what Geisler calls a "second class miracle":

Well, it's certainly not a de novo miracle. Both parts of the
first eukaryotic cell appear to have had precursors, under the
scheme described. Sounds like common descent; not special

Tim Ikeda (despam address before use)


Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999 20:00:32 -0700
From: Pim van Meurs <>
Subject: RE: Cell Biology's "big bang"

- --------------------------------------------------------------------
" put a correct view of the universe into people's heads we must =
get an incorrect view out." (Lewontin R., "Billions and Billions of=20
Demons," review of Sagan C., "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a=20
Candle in the Dark," New York Review, January 9, 1997, p28)
- --------------------------------------------------------------------

Hey Art, you still did not explain your use of the previous quote? Was =
the explanation that it was somewhat out of context correct ? You wrote:

- --------------------------------------------------------------------
"It turns out that the physical constants have just the values required =
ensure that the Universe contains stars with planets capable of =
intelligent life...The simplest interpretation is that the Universe was=20
designed by a creator who intended that intelligent life should evolve. =
interpretation lies outside science." (Smith J.M. & Szathmary E., "On =
likelihood of habitable worlds," Nature, Vol. 384, 14 November 1996, =
- --------------------------------------------------------------------

Just as I thought. Here is the response by Sumac.

Of course it is out of context. The quote contains three sentences taken =
from a page of text. Not only that, but the first sentence was separated =
from the second two by nearly two paragraphs (one paragraph and two half =
paragraphs). It is impossible to know the authors' intentions from that =
quote. The article is not available online (Nature Online doesn't have =
full text that far back), but I will type in a few passages to try to =
bring the quote back into context.=20

The article is actually a discussion of why the anthropic principle =
fails (in the authors' opinion) to explain anything when it is applied =
to the Universe in general. The authors, Smith and Szathm=E1ry (that's =
E. for E=F6rs), first point out that the weak anthropic principle (which =
states that the Universe is perfect
for intelligent life because there is intelligent life) is not really an =
explanation, but "merely acknowledges a peculiar situation."=20

However, the strong anthropic principle is equally dissatisfying. This =
principle "states that the Universe must have those properties that =
allow life to develop in it at some stage in its life history." They do =
say that the simplest interpretation of the strong anthropic principle =
is to assume a Creator, but they also point
out that that explanation is unscientific. Here is the passage that =
immediately follows the second part of the quote:=20

"Within science, there are two possibilities [to explain the strong =
anthropic principle]. First, there is only one universe possible on =
logical grounds, and the list of constants follows from a (so far =
unavailable) 'theory of everything'. Second, there are indeed many =
possible alternative universes. If so, the presence of observers may =
have a crucial role, since, according to the Copenhagen interpretation =
of quantum physics, it is the act of observation that chooses among =
possible superpositions. This version depends on the perhaps unjustified =
assumption that Schrodinger's equation can be applied to macroscopic =
objects. It also seems to lead to conclusion that the wave function did =
not collapse until the recent evolution of conscious observers on Earth, =
or perhaps, elsewhere in the Universe."

But again, nothing is really explained because there is no cause for the =
effect. The strong anthropic principle states that intelligent beings =
exist because they must exist. As Smith and Szathm=E1ry say: "The =
assertion is essentially unproved, and unlikely to be true."=20

In an attempt to explain their dissatisfaction with the above =
principles, they contrast these non-explanations with evolutionary =
theory (the authors are

"Evolutionary biology is a historical science. It tries to explain =
past events in terms of a theory (natural selection - that is, the =
dynamics of populations of entities with variation, multiplication, and =
heredity). To explain a particular event, say the origin of the =
eukaryotes, is to show that, given plausible initial conditions, the =
event, if not inevitable, was at least reasonably likely. The =
explanation should also be supported by evidence: the symbiotic theory =
of the origin of the eukaryotes is supported by the presence in =
mitochondria of DNA and a bacteria-like translating machinery. It would =
be unsatisfactory to argue that, because eukaryotes are in fact here, =
then any accidents, however unlikely, needed to give rise to them must =
have happened."

What they are saying is that, like the theory of evolution, a theory of =
the origin of physical constants needs to be based on evidence and not =
just on fanciful twists of logic and philosophy. They then go on to =
explain why they are attracted to a theory that was put forth by one L. =
Smolin (Quantum Grav. 9: 173-191, 1992). This theory proposes that the =
physical constants of the current Universe have evolved through a sort =
of cosmic natural selection. I have to admit that I do not entirely =
understand the argument, so I can't say if I agree with their assessment =
of Smolin's theory or not. The main point, though, was that Smolin's =
theory, unlike the anthropic theories, is based on observation and =
provides testable hypotheses with which to gather more evidence that may =
support or contradict the theory.

If I was making myself clear, then you should be able to see that the =
quote, as written, does not reflect the intentions of the authors. The =
comment about assuming a Creator was not referring directly to the =
physical constants of the Universe, but was referring to one =
interpretation of a 'strong anthropic principle' explanation for the =
physical constants of the Universe. And, that the authors view the =
strong anthropic principle as a non-explanation that is unsupportable by =
any available evidence.=20


End of evolution-digest V1 #1407