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This ESSAY about panspermia, posted on CCNET, 2 Feb 2000, led to an exchange between its author and Brig Klyce, 20 Feb - 21 Mar 2000.
Relativity, quantum theory, Darwinian evolution, and the heliocentric universe all violated the common sense of their times.

Plausibility, Significance and the Panspermia Epidemic
by Jon Richfield / Exchange / WhatsNEW

Panspermia is not intrinsically implausible, but in science it has played a minor, inglorious role, not far removed from that of cold fusion. The scientific establishment is not especially blind, hidebound or malicious, but even plain common sense makes its demands and a hypothesis must meet certain standards to be taken seriously, never mind accepted as a leader among viable alternatives.

For a start, Panspermia as a concept is very poorly defined and supporting arguments tend to be ill-disciplined to say the least. They range from academic musings on academic possibilities, to passionate and partisan assertions of the universal inevitability of life, not necessarily stopping short of UFO-mongering. At one extreme are tenuous speculations that SOME viable living material COULD at SOME TIME have been splashed off a planet or have got cobbled together in space and SOMEHOW survived indefinite periods of exposure to radiation and free radicals and IN PRINCIPLE have arrived intact on a receptor planet AND established a viable population. To a biologist, this is not strictly impossible, but it is not nearly plausible enough to be exciting. After all, in terms of strict logic it also is hard to refute the tooth fairy hypothesis, which so far has not cut much of a figure in the biology textbooks.

At least the tooth fairy has the advantage that we can check under our pillows for the transmutation of discarded hard tissue into welcome hard currency. In contrast, how can I distinguish our living world, which is as it is because a single spore fell to Earth 4e9BP, from a similar living world whose life originated 4e9BP in local clays? And if that distinction solves a problem on this planet, how does it solve the problem of how life first emerged, wherever that happened? Or do we accept not only a steady state universe, but steady state life as well? Neither of these is conceptually absurd, but it would take a hard case zealot to maintain that either is currently competitive.

At the other end of the scale, zealots tout, more or less as received wisdom, the continuous and effective universal dissemination of viable spores or viruses from planet to planet throughout the universe.

So far so fair, but in the heat of debate warriors from both extremes skip nimbly from premise to premise. Professional scientists who would strip the hide off any student who tried that sort of thing on, start out with specific proposals. When these proposals are too specific, they encounter fierce resistance from uncongenial specialists who deploy no end of unwelcome facts and intrusive logical objections. Under such pressure the proponents retreat into hand-waving, only to sally out again, even further, when the pressure fails to rout them from the fastnesses of vagueness.

All this is Good Stuff. Science would make pretty lame progress if we did no speculation, and a bit of bite in the debates adds zest. After all, no one forces the gentler spirits among us to participate. Besides, proposal and criticism of new ideas keep the livelier among us alive and hones our ideas, and if it annoys pedestrian fogies to see us at play, well, a little sorrow is good for their character and they can console themselves with their customary derogatory grumbles.

But a good barney is no substitute for soundness and in science, argument without soundness soon palls; there is too much real work that can be done instead and done more rewardingly.

At the modest end of the scale, almost the only interesting inference from Panspermia, if the hypothesis of a unique inoculation is true, is the implication that somewhere away from Earth, life has evolved and that that life should have certain aspects in common with life on our planet. That fact would seem tremendous enough in its own right, and if we had the faintest clue as to where to look for the source or how to recognise it, it would justify serious investigations and attempts at a visit or at least some probes.

When we stop to think about it though, suppose we did discover a remote source of inoculation. Work on the genesis of life on Earth is already underway and such a discovery need not affect it greatly. Ask yourself: either a germ lands in a lifeless, nutritious soup, and it prospers, or a similar germ assembles out of that soup in much the way that the invader germ might have done on another planet... and it prospers. Philosophically it only increases by one remove, the origin of the chain of life. *Biologically*, from the perspective of this planet, I do not see that it makes any difference at all. Who among us would regard such a speculation as grounds for putting other work on the back burner to release resources for searching for the parent planet? The problem is not only intrinsic implausibility, but lack of practical viability. What would you look for, how and why? What makes you think that the parent planet is within range of detection, or even that it still exists, or that life on that planet ever developed beyond a few smears of slime in a dying desert?

To be sure, there are plenty of other lines of research on which related questions could piggy-back: the study of our solar system and of "nearby" stars; the search for extraterrestrial intelligence; the investigation of the radiation profiles from our neighbouring regions of space; the nature of our own molecular biology; and so on. All of these have their own justifications as objects of study on their own scales and some of them might point us in directions where we do find a justification for a study of Panspermia, or at least polyspermia of some degree.... But so far, so nothing much.

For the idea that Earth near-miraculously picked up a single or at most a few "spores" that ignited our biosphere, let us coin the term "oligospermia". As I indicated, I do not regard oligospermia as being of much practical importance, nor do I find it plausible (but pay your dues and make your own choice!)

Then we have polyspermia. That would be the idea that interplanetary infection is rare, but not vanishingly rare. Any planet with a good fertile ocean full of abiogenetically generated organic matter could expect enough visitors to get a viable biosphere going in a few hundred million years. This would imply a far richer supply of sperm sources than oligospermia does, but to my mind would have little more day-to-day biological significance. For the last two billion years or so, there has not been much in the line of biochemicals that you could drop into our biosphere in picogram quantities without it getting gobbled up by incumbent organisms. Proponents would have to produce something substantial and falsifiable to lend much interest to polyspermia. In science a subject doesn't have to be false to be boring.

Next let's consider Panspermia, which I propose as referring to a more ambitious scenario: that the universe is more or less awash with cosmic sperms and practically every planet is continually, or at least frequently (say more than once per century) peppered with viable organisms. In the more sanguine versions of this theory, some of those sperms routinely survive on the planet. Real optimists regard them as the driving force behind evolution, continually enriching our gene pools! Others take a gloomier view and between copious medicinal draughts of hot scotch and lemon, they mournfully portray the visitors from space as seeds of epidemics of flu and the like. In a steady-state (or at least eternal, or at even less than least, a very, very long-lived) universe, such spores might serve as a steady-state presence of life, a sort of diffuse, eternal, cosmic ecology.

In a field of such importance, surely it must be worthwhile to hunt for such spores and test their viability in space and on earth? Why not solve the dispute at a stroke and then proceed to the more interesting implications of the results?

Unfortunately, it is by no means easy to design experiments to satisfy everyone. In the face of negative results, panspermic hypotheses rapidly tail off, first into polyspermia, then into oligospermia, and finally into unfalsifiability. You did not find anything? Obviously you did not look long enough, skillfully enough and hard enough. You did not look in the right places. How do you expect your filter to pick up so low a frequency of particles? You looked for the wrong things (who says flu germs in space will be in the same form as flu germs in eukaryotic host cells?) Your device was not gentle enough; it destroyed the specimens. Your tests were not diagnostic enough to recognise alien organisms. (Proponents of this sort of argument seem to think that one virus is all you need to start an epidemic, no matter what spoilsport virologists say.)

And so on. To make things worse, in real life it is no easy matter to detect or identify really microscopic life forms or quasi-life forms (such as viruses or viroids). Even when one actually has a fair amount of material at one's disposal, there is room for argument about the nature of, not only fossils, but putative extant soil microbes. Looking through the microscope, one does not see all those beautifully labelled pictures of cell walls and double helices. So in practice, to prove a positive may be a serious challenge, and proof of a negative becomes very, very difficult.

But that is no novelty. At best failure to prove a negative constitutes confirming instances for either a negative or a positive hypothesis. Even to be taken seriously, the failure should fit into a persuasively comprehensible conceptual and factual framework.

One example of contorted reasoning is that Panspermia relieves us of the intellectual burden of the improbability of getting a vanishingly improbable protein (or nucleic acid chain or the like) in the ridiculously short time and space estimated to have been available during the period of abiogenesis on Earth. This is a mouldy old chestnut, not too appetising even when it was fresh (if it ever was; I suspect it to have originated somewhere in a steady-state panspermic universe.) The trouble is that it is not even relevant except in an effectively eternal, infinite, steady state universe, which ours is not currently accepted to be.

Consider: suppose either that life originated here, or elsewhere. Suppose that it did so by stochastic generation of the necessary living structures. But we accept that the stochastic generation of a unique set of polymers is far too improbable for us to expect a hit in our planetary history. This is inarguable; no competent biologist or biochemist would deny it for an instant. Unfortunately the same argument is good for any universe as small as ours seems to be, even if we do not limit the scope to one planet. About a googol of particles in about 1e10 years is far, far, far too mingy a medium to generate anything viable with any realistic probability. So on such assumptions, to propose panspermia for bluntening Ockham's razor is simply unreasonable.

There is no evidence that probabilistically independent selection of monomers for unique target chains ever would have been a viable basis for the genesis of life anywhere. Therefore there is no point to arguing about 1e-137 probabilities (or whatever ridiculous figure one prefers). There are two gaping holes in this idea: we do not know that the formation of polymers really is effectively random, and we have no hint of a reason to believe that only one (or even one class of) polymer would be viable. The space of all polymers available to our abiogenetic past may be very far from poor in viable developments. For all we know the frequency of viable macromolecules in our ancestral soup, might be of the order of one in millions or billions, rather than one in googols.

In other words, of all the molecules likely to be generated in our primeval soup, the frequency of biologically relevant specimens might be very high indeed, perhaps hundreds or even millions of orders of magnitude greater than a simple-minded stochastic model would suggest.

Stochastic generation of unique or near-unique target molecules is hardly more viable a prospect for panspermists than for parochialists. This would not invalidate panspermia, but it certainly would puncture claims that panspermia is a sufficient, let alone a necessary, assumption for the care and feeding of good Ockhamists.

But surely I am being too hopeful? In the light of the by no means absolute, but certainly very considerable specificity of extant biomolecules, where do I get off, criticising the optimism of panspermists? Granted: there is not a single protein nor a single nucleic acid to which it is impossible to make a change without rendering it non-functional. But then, there also are not many that offer no opportunity for a single modification that is deadly, or at least causes a serious reduction in fitness. Who would bet on our primeval soup generating a viable mix of near-enough-hits?

The logical problem here is that we cannot assume that the requirements for viability in a sterile soup are the same as in the feeding frenzy that permeates the soil and ocean today. Any old Heath Robinson structure could have hobbled on for centuries in a dead, but fertile, environment, without fear of interruption. As competition grew stiffer, tighter performance tolerances became necessary for survival and in a few hundred million years something like the greater specificity of our modern molecular structures would have resulted. A few gigayears of adaptation later, the original limping abiogenesis would be lost in the past, probably together with a job lot of rival systems and designs that turned out to be less viable or less lucky. Anyone who doubts this might as well ask why Palaeolithic tools are dangerously useless in a modern machine shop, in which imprecision of a millimetre or two would in many circumstances be disastrous. Ironically, a modern electric lathe might not work too impressively in a Palaeolithic machine shop. Any of us might fair poorly in the remote Precambrian.

So adaptation was an absolute necessity. A concept of crucial importance is that the process of adaptation is heuristic as opposed to stochastic. Anyone who does not know the implications of that has a lot of homework to do; Darwin has passed him by!

Now let's talk monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys with infinite stamina and lots and lots of typewriters; very, very good typewriters with lots and lots of consumable supplies. After something like 1e1e7 keystrokes (sure; call me a liar for the sake of a few googols!) we get a complete Shakespeare, right? Maybe. (With MY luck, don't rely on it!) OK, but what else do you get on the way? Any half Shakespeares? Any other full Shakespeares in different sequences? What? Not even a Pushtu Limerick? How about a few Spencers, Schillers, Semmelweisses or Skytbalies?

(Skytbalie never *actually* existed, but he is the fellow who *would* have written the definitive, cogent explanatory treatise on the nature of mind, its generation and predictive physics if he *had* in fact existed. His work would have made Einstein look like Enid Blyton for depth and like a nineteenth-century political-theoretic tract for clarity and cogency. Unfortunately, if he *had* been real and he had gotten round to writing it, the non-existent Skytbalie would have written his non-existent tract in his non-existent mother tongue of Strondskrif, so no one could have read it, since we have no such language. However, who is in a position to deny that this tract may have appeared in the by-products of our monkeys' output, and maybe there would also be a fortuitous dictionary... into the other non-existent language of Gageluid!)

See? All that Good Stuff may be cramming our monkeys' output and we are not even assuming anything heuristic about their products. Looking through that mass, we would find the Shakespeares and Schillers and so on, while in some other universe these would be sifted out unrecognised, while the delighted Strondskriftish would exclaim over the Skytbalie tracts. There could be many different systems, mutually irrelevant, but intrinsically viable, given a fair chance.

We have no way of knowing what the frequency of meaningful RNA, DNA or peptide chains may be within the space of accessible sequences, combinations and configurations, very likely with strongly heuristic associations. Must I necessarily be wrong to guess at frequencies of one in millions or billions? Tell me why. (Careful! If Strondskrif had indeed been our language (and who are you to say it is intrinsically a lesser probability than English) then Skytbalie's works would have been far more recognisable to us than Shakespeare's. Trying to generate a text in a particular language might be infeasible; generating a text in any extant language might be only a few orders of magnitude easier, but generating a text in something that might in principle be viable as a language, given a suitable semiotic environment might not be ridiculously difficult at all.)

But would Shakespeare's work really be of any value in such a gravitationally disastrous mass of paper? Definitely not. We could never find it. That is the point of the heuristic generation of functional polymers in our ancient soil and water. We do not have to sort out anything from such beyond-astronomically huge numbers of molecules; we get perhaps a few trillion tonnes of job-lot precursor molecules juggled for a few hundred million years. Any neighbours that mutually mean anything constructive to each other get a chance at a new generation. Maybe many do, maybe only one ever does. Maybe only one ever did in the history of the universe and it happened here. Maybe it happened in a few places, but only this one survived. But out of context, no life ever will.

Most of the molecules that do not fit the emerging templates simply never arise. Such a context is a demanding requirement in this connection and to get it right first time takes a bit of doing, in fact a lot of feedback. One of the greatest problems with any space-based abiogenesis is that it is exceedingly difficult to create a persuasive scenario for such heuristic feedback. On Earth there was lots of water for hydration, support and transport, lots of clay particles for anchors and templates, and a good turnover of raw materials for conversion into the next generation. In space you would be lucky to get a peptide, let alone a virus. And if you did miraculously get a virus, what meta-miraculous procedure would generate you another virus of the same kind in the same region?

If anyone gave me a scroll with all of Shakespeare in it (or even a single sonnet, actually) and tried to convince me that he had found it in a virgin rock from outer space, I'd want some fairly persuasive supporting evidence. All this and in English too? Elizabethan English? And on paper? A single glucose molecule from space I just MIGHT swallow, but polymerised into shredded cellulose, compacted and sized in space? Or splashed off another planet on which cellulose just happened to be the available substrate? Well, that is the sort of thing panspermists are in effect trying to sell us in the form of diseases from space. A virus is not just any ball of protein and RNA; it is a structure of not only the right proteins in the right configurations of the right lock-and-key conformations, but with the necessary lipid bilayers, the right enzymes included inside, and the right RNA chains inside with them. These need to be assembled in an aqueous medium, by the necessary assembly machinery! Anyone who thinks that he can generate flu viruses just by shaking the ingredients in water (never mind in a comet), good luck to him for the first million years' shaking. And by ingredients I do not mean carbon and water.

Translate all this into engineering terms: trying to assemble viruses at random in space amounts to asking for the proverbial whirlwind to assemble a Boeing out of a scrap yard, not in a machine shop with all the ready-made components to hand (or to eddy.)

What is more, it is like asking for a Boeing and refusing a Handley-Page or a Douglas. Of heaven knows how many viruses, we get, not just any virus, but an ordered sequence of strains of viruses of middle-of-the-road complexity and with a specificity to a modest subset of vertebrate hosts. For our miraculous virus from space to have just the right neuraminidases and haemagglutinins is asking too, too much. We do not get persistent polio or rabies epidemics from space, it seems, though both of these viruses are quite infective when they get into respiratory tracts or the eye.... What we get is flu.

And the sequences of new strains of flu every few years just happen to be logically consistent with Earthside molecular evolution too?

But wait, sauce for the juice is sauce for the comet. If by my magical formula for assembly of living molecules or structures in Earth's ocean or clays, I can construct life out of shockingly small samples of candidate material, by adaptive feedback, then why cannot the same thing happen in the far vaster samples of material in space? Who then needs a steady state universe?

Fair as far is it goes, but firstly, the idea is then once more not very exciting. We can check for life out there, but not for viruses raining onto us down here. Secondly, where in space do we get the heuristic feedback?

No, I repeat, Panspermia has a great deal of development to do before it becomes an interesting subject. I may have said this before; I shall certainly say it again: certain subjects, such as probability theory, are easy in principle, but bristle with traps for the unwary. One such subject is evolution, and its treachery extends thence to permeate the rest of biology. A neglecter of homework does not make much of splash in biology; more of a dull plop..... And bad science doesn't even make good science fiction unless the writer is a genius.

Copyright 2000, Jon Richfield

The exchange begins.

Subject: Panspermia
Date: c. 20 Feb 2000
From: Jon Richfield

Hi Brig,... My name is Jon Richfield, with very little in the way of qualifications to discuss panspermia, but a good deal in the way of personal opinion (adjustable in the light of evidence, introspection and persuasion of course). I recently sent an essay to Benny Peiser of the CCNet, whose site deals largely with Near Earth Objects. The essay dealt with panspermia, which at best has a tenuous relevance to NEOs, but there had been a lot of argy bargy about it and about. Reactions to the essay were few and ranged from enthusiastically positive to, well, let us say, enthusiastically negative.

Now, Benny tells me that you wrote a rebuttal, but that he had been unwilling to place it because he did not wish to compromise the focus of the site. This is only fair and I know from personal experience that Benny takes both the content, the ethical position and the courtesy of the site very seriously. For instance, when he got severly bombed for what certain persons saw as a slip up (wrongly in my opinion) he published all the flak in context and unmitigated. Most sites would have exercised editorial privilege and printed only what suited them. When it comes to other participants however, Benny vetoes unnecessary personalities to a degree that I at least, find rather frustrating.

Be that as it may, I am curious as to the nature of your rebuttal and if you think the whole matter is worth taking further, I am willing (TIME PERMITTING) to take the discussion to your site. I had not been aware of it (The WWW is BIG!) but I had a look and it seems to be a nice crowd for the most part, so although I am sceptical about panspermia, what the hell... Cheers,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2000 14:56:53 -0600
From: Brig Klyce

Dear Jon -- ...I read your piece with keen interest, and did start a rebuttal, but never actually finished it. I did finish a rebuttal to a comment from Genghe(?) but when Benny censored it I dropped any other writing for Benny's group.

I would still like to rebut your piece, but writing is slow and difficult business for me. The last sentence in your piece seemed to be aimed right at me. (Go ahead, admit it!) My favorite idea was to just use your words, substituting as needed:

"Darwinian evolution is implausible, but in science it has played a major, glorified role, not unlike that of Aristotelian chemistry before modern times. The scientific establishment seems blind to the demands of common sense -- a hypothesis must meet certain standards to be taken seriously at all, never mind to become accepted as unquestionable."

"For a start, Darwinian evolution as a concept is poorly defined, and supporting arguments tend to be ill-disciplined to say the least...." (Hey, I'm starting to like this.) ...But this will have to wait....


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2000 04:07:05 -0500 (EST)
From: Jon Richfield

Hi Brig,... ...Yeah, well Benny & co have a specific view on how to run the site. I am not about to criticise. They have a lot of good stuff.

> ...writing is slow and difficult business for me...
Me too, if I want to produce anything worth reading!

>The last sentence in your piece seemed to be aimed right at me. (Go ahead, admit it!)
Not without legal advice I don't! I am not as nice as Benny, but I try to avoid being mean (not always successfully, of course!)

>Darwinian evolution is implausible,...
It is not clear to me whether you are kidding. I assume you must be, because I cannot see panspermia going anywhere without Darwinian evolution! :-)

You may get to like it less if you try it on! I can give you chapter and verse on the concepts and on the arguments! What you hear there buzzing is my honing of my fangs, what you smell there burning is my zeal!... Cheers,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2000 09:25:40 -0600
From: Brig Klyce

Jon -- thanks for the thoughtful and amusing response. No time now to respond in full, but as to this one point, yes, I am serious. In brief, I think Darwinian evolution can take life sideways and backwards, but not forward without a supply of new genes. More at --

http://www.panspermia.org/proof5.htm
http://www.panspermia.org/neodarw.htm#micromacro

Thanks. Later.... Brig Klyce / Acorn Enterprises LLC ...


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2000 01:29:38 -0500 (EST)
From: Jon Richfield

Hi Brig,... Thanks for your kind comments and for those really valuable links. I never knew about eg. the Dawkins page. Good Stuff! Have you read "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" by Daniel Dennett? He does not write as well as Dawkins (hardly anyone ever did except Medawar, and he, I am very, very sorry to say, is dead. A superb writer, wit and scientist. If I had no other grudge against the tobacco industry, his death would be enough already!) But anyway, anyone wishing to argue against evolution today, who has not prepared himself by reading DDI, does not know what he is up against!

No hurry about responses. I am going into a phase of dysorganisational hysteria which may last several months (always assuming that *I* last!)... Meanwhile go well,... All the best,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: 29 February 2000
From: Brig Klyce

Dear Jon -- ...Thanks for the book recommendation. Yes, I read DDI when it was new. I am now looking at my copy, and it is heavily marked up. But I don't have it anywhere on my website as as reference apparently. Re-reading it now, I find it hard to insert my scalpel anywhere. (It's all fat!)

My new theme is -- if evolution works, let's see a real time demonstration, in either biology or a computer model. (My GECCO-99 paper to which I already sent you a link says the same thing basically.) Think of it as a Michelson Morley experiment for biology. Everyone's sure the ether will be detected, but let's just do the experiment anyway.

I am going to pitch this idea to NASA in April: http://www.panspermia.org/astrobio01.htm

I appreciate the good humor with which you entertain my ideas, to which you must be entirely opposed.... Best regards.... Brig Klyce / Acorn Enterprises LLC...


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Wed Mar 01 01:31:03 EST 2000
From: Jon Richfield

Hi Brig, ...I don't understand this business of why I should be nasty to you because I disagree with you. I did not understand you to say you agreed mith MY ideas, and yet YOU weren't nasty to ME!

If you found any fat in DDI, you must point it out to me. I missed it and I read it with care (it took me a couple of weeks of commuting! Although the book is quite well written, it was hard work, not because it was obscure or anything, but because it covered such a broad and deep scale of concepts.)

As for the real-time demo of evolution, if you want to see a demo of the rise of the reptiles from the amphibians, then either yer gets yerself a time machine or yer settles down to a continent-sized project of a few million years. On a similar principle, I could fault Einstein's gravitational laws as only applying to small objects because it is only possible for us to experiment on small objects. Even moving a planet measurably is a major project and we have no prospect of moving galaxies to prove that it works. To argue that we have seen a lot of gravitational events bearing out general relativistic principles in the regions of pulsars and the like is special pleading; there are no controls. I won't accept that garbage until someone goes and moves the pulsars to other configurations for meaningful comparisons!

So THERE! Grrr!... (See? I CAN be nasty! :-) )

In evolution we have observations on the large scale of time and space with poor data and limited control (palaeontology), short time scale, small to large spatial scale (ecology), artificial manipulation (breeding, both in the lab and in husbandry), inadvertent impact (pesticide resistance and other effects, such as creation of cold, food-rich environments to which rodents adapt), and observation (drift and speciation in nature.) Furthermore, in the last fifty years or so, we have made stunning strides in understanding both the sub-cellular mechanisms and in simulating the gross processes of evolution and we can hardly find a biological process or mechanism that is inconsistent with (neo if you like)-Darwinism.

And it is all nice and consisitent, supports predictions, explains observations, and all the time yields surprises in support of Orgel's second law (as enunciated in DDI, remember?)

Nope, that isn't watertight proof. But science deos not deal in watertight proof. Science is about selection of the strongest current hypotheses, and abandoning them heartlessly when prettier ones happen along. (But NOT until then!)

In short, it is what in our less pretentious moments, you and I might call common sense!... Sorry if I can't do better than that!... Go well,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Thu, 02 Mar 2000 10:20:31 -0600
From: Brig Klyce

Dear Jon --... I have just spent 45 minutes re-looking at _Darwin's Dangerous Idea_. I still can't find much worthy of comment. I was reminded that from Dennett I first learned that Hume liked the idea of life being spread by comets. Also, that Kurt Goedel (probably the most important philosopher of the 20th Century) didn't accept Darwinian evolution. (OK, drop the "neo-".) So DDI is a good survey of the literature at least.

My favorite quote is (p 47): "When [scientists] are confronted with a _prima facie_ powerful and undismissable objection to natural selection... [9 lines omitted], these scientists have then proceded to take on the burden of showing how the difficulties with their view could be overcome, and time and time again they have suceeded in meeting the challenge."

"...could be overcome..." In other words, as long as a new "Just So" story can be imagined, the theory is secure.... To comment on your other points in order --

1. Evolutionary progress needs a time machine to be observed -- this would not be a fatal flaw if lots of other confirmation were available, as is the case for gravitational laws.

2. The shift in ecologies does not bear on the question of how new genetic programs necessary for evolutionary progress emerge on Earth.

3. Artificial selection has never been shown to cause new genetic programs [with, to put a number on it, at least a dozen essential changed nucleotides] to come into being.

4. Pesticide resistance and bacterial resistance to drugs are caused either by 1) point mutations that disable (or rarely, re-enable) genes that promote or suppress other genetic programs, or by 2) the acquisition of "resistance plasmids" (lateral gene transfer). Some germs can also change to keep ahead of host immune systems by program switching -- employing a new protein coat for which the genes are already in their genomes. And viruses can change protein coats with random single nucleotide substitutions in the relevant genes. None of these processes has been shown to be capable of composing new genes for evolutionary progress.

5. Drift and speciation are fine, but they do not produce evolutionary progress. New genes with dozens to hundreds of essential, properly sequenced nucleotides are required.

6. Our growing understanding of subcellular mechanisms reinforces (to me) the similarity between cells and computers. Both depend on linear instructions encoded with a standard set of symbols. This brings us back around to the need for a time machine. If evolutionary progress takes too long to observe in biology, how about in a computer model. I'll accept that!

(drop the numbering) "Science is about selection of the strongest current hypotheses, and abandoning them heartlessly when prettier ones happen along. (But NOT until then!)" -- I agree with you here. But there is a strong cultural bias in determining which is "prettier."

"In short, it is what in our less pretentious moments, you and I might call common sense!" -- I'm not sure what you mean here. (Did you see Russell's comment about common sense in DDI, p 26?) Perhaps it is common sense for laymen (laypersons?) to accept the consensus of science. But within science, common sense is not a reliable guide. Relativity, quantum theory, Darwinian evolution, and the heliocentric universe all violated the common sense of their times.

Thanks for your forbearance.... I am eager to hear back from you on these science issues.... Best regards.... Brig Klyce / Acorn Enterprises LLC...


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Fri Mar 03 06:29:21 EST 2000
From: Jon Richfield

>...So DDI is a good survey of the literature at least.
For sure!

>...as long as a new "Just So" story can be imagined, the theory is secure.
Non sequitur. Are you saying that if a notional difficulty can be raised against a theory, then a notional rebuttal is invalid? Tsk tsk!

Note too that some of those just so stories happened to take the form of rubbing the critics' noses in hard facts! It is frustrating to object that say, speciation is impossible in such and such circumstances, and have some inconsiderate sod point out that it has in fact been observed, or even that it is a textbook case, known for years. So I can understand the resentment that many objectors show. But I don't have to sympathise.

>1. Evolutionary progress needs a time machine to be observed -- this would not be a fatal flaw if lots of other confirmation were available, as is the case for gravitational laws.
We appear to be at cross purposes. I was referring to the fact that no one was around long enough ago, or for long enough, to see eukaryotes emerge from prokaryotes, or metazoa from protozoans, or echinoderms and chordates from common ancestors. There we are talking about history. We have no observers or pictures to tell us of the rise, decline and fall of the Roman Empire either. Gravity is another matter. We can examine gravity here, now and repeatedly, over long and short time scales. For history we need other kinds of evidence and we encounter other difficulties and uncertainties. Just as we have some folks who swear that historical events must have relied on extraterrestrial aliens'interventions, or that the history books are lies, so we have objections that our evidence of evolutionary history is unacceptable.

My reason for accepting it is contemporary observation that evolution works, much as contemporary gravity works, and that evidence for past events, both evolutionary and gravitational, is consistent.... You can perhaps suggest a better basis?

>2. The shift in ecologies does not bear on the question of how new genetic programs necessary for evolutionary progress emerge on Earth.
Wasn't supposed to in the sense of ecology generating genetic change. Works fine for explaining how the various adaptional changes got selected for. The sheer volume of changes available in the genotypes, as revealed by modern molecular biology, supply plenty of material, where it works. Where it doesn't, we get a thing called unsuccessful competition, or even extinction.... Sad of course, but...

>3. Artificial selection has never been shown to cause new genetic programs [with, to put a number on it, at least a dozen essential changed nucleotides] to come into being.
Nice assertion. You have two chances of supporting it. Slim chance and fat chance. You have no chance of demonstrating its necessity; for instance, just a year or so ago two radically different plants in the same genus got examined. I can't remember whether the genetic differences that determined their separate species status were about three or about six, but it was something very small like that, not a dozen or two. One species is a colour suited to avian pollination and the other to insect, one is shaped for bird pollination. They do not crossbreed in nature. Different fertilisation pools, see? Ecologically they are separate, but neighbours. Speciation took a gene or two for colour change, and a gene or few for shape change and Bob's yer uncle! No one said that all the genes had to mutate at once. Just a colour change may have been enough to set it off, but unlike gravity, we do not have a time machine to go back a few centuries or millennia to trace the history.... Sounds familiar?

>4. ...point mutations ...lateral gene transfer...program switching.... None of these processes has been shown to be capable of composing new genes for evolutionary progress.
What is your definition of a new gene? If you only accept evolution to occur when a new gene arises de novo and ahistorically, you win hands down. Unfortunately it is a sterile victory, because that is not what any evolutionist calls evolution. Evolutionists (or biologists wearing their evolutionist hats) are quite happy to accept mutation and gene transfer leading to functional changes and adaptational selection, as evolution.... This bothers you??

The concept of evolutionary progress is a messy one at best and evolutionists avoid the words for most purposes. They prefer to speak of adaptation to selection pressures etc. Why do you find speciation and drift inadequate as (to use your expression) "evolutionary progress"? Where do you get this requirement of "dozens to hundreds of essential, properly sequenced nucleotides"? No one else seems to have heard of it. Remind me to tell you of the genes and even introns of pea chloroplasts and cyanobacteria, or the resemblances between our and chimpanzee DNA.

>...If evolutionary progress takes too long to observe in biology, how about in a computer model. I'll accept that!
Ever heard of Tierra? Also, the resemblance you refer to is a lot less obvious than you seem to think. There is a lot of non-linear stuff going on and a lot more to learn about the molecular biology of cells. It is all Good Stuff, but don't hold your breath for easy options. We have made stunning progress since I was a student and the rate of progress remains dizzying; no HOPE of keeping up, but every easy option vanishes as we approach. Evolution and cells both seem to be smarter than we are!

>...There is a strong cultural bias in determining which is "prettier."
True, but that is not much of a problem. Even when we do not make further progress and have the unwelcome "prettier" one crammed down our throats by force of new discoveries, (consider the progress made in taxonomy during the last twenty years or so, in which generations of assumptions that had become in trenched among comparative morphologists simply went down the drain in the face of DNA studies.) Even so, as I was saying, when there is no new breakthrough, there usually is parallel work to provide enough Just So stories to change the bias for or against a contending theory. Existing disputants may not come to agreement (though often they do) but the next generation does. Sometimes wrongly, of course.

>...But within science, common sense is not a reliable guide. Relativity, ...and the heliocentric universe all violated the common sense of their times.
But not the common sense of the participants. The number of times I have been shaken to the roots of my perceptions in science, I now forget (can't count that far! :-) ), but in looking back, all my life I have seen science as glorified common sense: "Yeah, DAMN it!!! That bloody WORKS!!! OBVIOUS! WHY didn't *I* think of that; IDIOT!!!" Remember Huxley's remark? Something like: "How remarkably stupid not to have thought of that!" ... Go well!... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: 03 Mar 2000 08:53:35 -0600
From: Brig Klyce

Jon --... Thanks for your last. I Like your style, even when it's slightly insulting or condescending. But if I employ a similar one, out among the saved, I'm a madman.... I think we are talking past each other. This is what happens between Darwinists and creationists also. But I think we have a chance to understand each other. With patience.... My position is simple:

Darwinism is fine for sideways and backwards movement in evolution. In fact, cells are clearly superior to computers in their ability to find small mutations that are "beneficial" (without being inventive in any important sense.) All of your undisputed examples are in this category. I have little interest in speciation, because it is not inventive. (I am aware of the need, in standard Darwinism, for small separate populations, etc.)

But Darwinism has not been shown to produce any of the major advances in evolution, some of which you list. These are "inventive" and do require lengthy new genetic sequences. The best example supporting Darwinism of which I am aware is the evidence that a gene for blood antifreeze evolved from a gene for a pancreatic enzyme in Antarctic cod. But this example is inadequate (too rare and too weak) to sustain the case.

I find it hard to believe that Darwinism can do the latter thing (invent new features by writing the lengthy new code for them). You find it easy to believe. Our mindsets predispose us to see the "evidence" differently.

You wonder if I have ever heard of Tierra. I have studied it as closely as was possible for me without speaking directly with Tom Ray. The results from Tierra sustain the view I am promoting -- the model has never exhibited the ability to invent new features requiring lengthy new code. Its overwhelming outcome is that the smaller organisms survive better. The best it has done, for your case, is to discover parasitism -- major blocks of code are spliced onto other ones. No small thing, and neatly analogous to symbiosis and horizontal gene transfer in real life. But parasitism will not bring about evolutionary progress past a very near limit. Ray himself would probably admit this. In any case, he is still looking for a "spiraling upwards in complexity" in the model.

I can imagine a world where strong panspermia is the accepted model and human life ultimately ex nihilo is considered outlandish speculation. "Not a shred of supporting evidence...", that sort of thing. Under those circumstances, how would you establish that Darwinian evolution can produce sustained, inventive evolutionary progress? Just an exercise to consider.... Best wishes.... Brig Klyce


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Mon Mar 06 00:38:48 EST 2000
From: Jon Richfield

Hi Brig ... I doubly did not intend to sound condescending, which is an insult I reserve for really, really offensive sods who have asked for it loud and clear. I assure you that any time you read condescension into anything I write to you, it did not come in at this end! Hmmm...

>Darwinism is fine for sideways and backwards movement in evolution.
Sideways... hmmm... I am not sure how you would characterise that. I am deeply uncomfortable with the term and in fact I am doubtful how you would define backwards evolution too. I suspect that it is an artefact of your rather demanding attitude towards mutation, but I'd be politely sceptical of your ability to define such evolution unambiguously and usefully, especially in comparison with existing terminology.

>In fact, cells are clearly superior to computers in their ability to find small mutations that are "beneficial" (without being inventive in any important sense.)
Very dubious. What sort of cellular heuristics do you suggest are beyond a suitably programmed computer? Note that I am not undertaking to write the superior heuristics, but asking where you got your assurance of the general principle. Proving a negative is hard work. Claiming a negative suggests over-confidence to me! You would need first to characteise the impossible bits, and then to show whay they might reasonably regarded as impossible....

Please explain how speciation is not inventive. I gave you an example of a plant that speciated into different appearance and a different ecology with half a dozen mutations or less and you call it uninventive??? Pull the other one! And what is this "... need, in standard Darwinism, for small separate populations..."? I have never heard of it. Cross purposes?... Of course, I am not picking on the anthropomorphic overtones of the term. I accept that you are speaking in comfortable informal analogies. I do a lot of the same sort of thing. It is not the validity of the analogies that I am attacking, but the validity of the argument in the framework of those analogies.... OK?

>But Darwinism has not been shown to produce any of the major advances in evolution.... These are "inventive" and do require lengthy new genetic sequences. The best example.... is inadequate (too rare and too weak) to sustain the case.
This is at once too assertive and too contentious. Which "inventive" adaptations do you have in mind? And how long do you want to hang around to see them? Do a little thinking about the history of life; for some one or two billion years we SEEM not to have had even eukaryotes. For two or three billion years we didn't have metazoa or metaphyta. Our entire structured metazoan history has been crammed into a measly half-billion-year postscript! Our "inventive" developments as you call them have come from just a few events in the history of life and they have been shared and pooled repeatedly. In fact it is probably worse than that; I suspect that some of the systems have exterminated rivals. That would explain the chirality of amino acids and saccharides for example. As for your (to my mind, in your terms uninventive) antifreeze example, there are many such. How about the lactase in your eye lens, for example? Re-use and re-re-use of apposite tools to hand are rife. What else might one expect?

Remember the phylogeny of the eye in its various re-inventions? Its various STUNNING re-inventions? Most or all of which seem to go back to a common genetic-biochemical origin?... Does this suggest to you a certain animosity on my part towards your term "(un)inventive"?... Evolution does fine with "uninventive" developments. If you demand continual inventiveness, fine, but then you are inventing an evolution that does not resemble what we see in nature and describe as (neo)Darwinism. What the British call an Aunt Sally. An artificial target set up for knocking down, and not part of the opposing argument.

>...Our mindsets predispose us to see the "evidence" differently.
For sure, but I have a comfortable feeling that the empirical evidence for my mindset is more reassuring.

>... The results from Tierra sustain the view I am promoting.... The best it has done, for your case, is to discover parasitism.... But parasitism will not bring about evolutionary progress past a very near limit.
Ahem... Ever heard of mitochondria? Parasitism can be quite an inventive thing! As I define inventiveness anyway. :-) Why you think Tierra supports your view, I am not sure. It seems pretty comforting to me too!

>I can imagine a world where strong panspermia is the accepted model.... Under those circumstances, how would you establish that Darwinian evolution can produce sustained, inventive evolutionary progress?...
I can imagine it just as well. Similar science fiction themes are quite common. In microcosm it is happening on this planet; seems there is this Klyce feller... :-) As for how Darwinism would win, why, same way it did in our world, against other opinions. I seem to recall quoting Huxley. I could have quoted Tyndall as well. Material evidence plus a powerful concept are formidable opposition.... Cheers,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Mon, 06 Mar 2000 12:32:29 -0600
From: Brig Klyce

Dear Jon --... > >Darwinism is fine for sideways and backwards movement in evolution....
>I am deeply uncomfortable with the term [sideways] and infact I am doubtful how you would define backwards evolution too....
Reminds me of Bill Clinton. "That depends on what your definition of "is" is." One can define these terms by example very easily. Sideways evolution -- the way the coelacanth's vision became shifted toward the blue end of the spectrum, apparently accomplished by two single amino acid substitutions, which can be caused by only two nucleotide substitutions. Or, the way the moth changed from light to dark by simply expressing genes it already possessed. Backward evolution -- loss of sight in cave creatures.

This seems abundantly clear to me. I am reluctant to be dragged a semantics contest by trying to define the terms precisely. Nevertheless, consider the least algorithmic complexity (LAC) of the program needed to produce a phenotyope. In sideways evolution that quantity remains the same. In backward evolution, it decreases.

> >In fact, cells are clearly superior to computers in their ability to find small mutations that are "beneficial" (without being inventive in any important sense.)
> Very dubious.
I think a suitably programmed computer might be superior in other respects. But I though everyone agreed that DNA code was less "brittle" that computer code.

> Please explain how speciation is not inventive. I gave you an example....
What new features were invented?

> And what is this "... need, in standard Darwinism, for small separate populations..."?
I think Mayr came up with it as a way to explain punctuated equilibrium. Small isolated populations can fix mutations more easily than big ones, I think it goes. Then, once the advantage is established, they emerge from their isolation and take over, making an event that looks sudden in the fossil record.

> Which "inventive" adaptations do you have in mind?... For two or three billion years we didn't have metazoa or metaphyta. Our entire structured metazoan history has been crammed into a... postscript!
You seem to be saying that nothing interesting happened before eukaryotes. How about photosynthesis? Or oxygen-based metabolism? But you also seem to be saying that the postscript can be ignored as anomalous. Anyway, some inventions would be multicellularity, cell specialization, locomotion, hard shells,... scales, feathers, hair, skin, eyes, lungs, limbs, bones, digestive systems, circulatory systems, nervous systems, wings, eyes, ears, speech, etc.

> Re-use and re-re-use of apposite tools to hand are rife. What else might one expect?
Re-use will not get us many of the items listed above.

> Evolution does fine with "uninventive" developments. If you demand continual inventiveness, fine, but then you are inventing an evolution that does not resemble what we see in nature....
Can't follow this. Bacteria already had eyes? I don't demand "continual" inventiveness, just enough to account for what we observe.

> Ahem... Ever heard of mitochondria? Parasitism can be quite an inventive thing!...
Parasitism requires that the programming for each component be already done, and that the components be compatable. Getting the programming done and compatable is the inventive part.

> Material evidence plus a powerful concept are formidable opposition.
Evolutionary progress requires new genes. That these can come from Darwinian evolution in a closed system has not been shown. Neither in real life (such as experiments with 25,000 generations of bacteria) nor in A-Life (such as Tierra), has anything analogous to new genes with new functions (such as in the list of evolutionary features above) been generated. With no result after this much effort, the possibility that it doesn't work must be admitted.

As more genes and genomes are sequenced, the pathways to higher eukaryotic genes are not becoming apparent. Instead, phylogenetic trees based on one gene are being contradicted by trees based on another gene. Many eukaryotic genes "seem to have come from nowhere" according to W. Ford Doolittle (Scientific American, Feb. 2000).... I'm becoming slightly pessimistic. It's as if we don't speak the same language. Do you feel that way?... Brig


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Wed Mar 08 05:56:02 EST 2000
From: Jon Richfield

... Brig, some of us do actually care about getting the semantics right. Where I come from sematics is the relationship between meaning and symbol and if you get it wrong, you needn't bother about gettig anything else right. Not in communication anyway. Remember that we are dealing with a subtle subject and the fact that the basic concepts are simple does not make the subject simple. Whole generations of sloppy thinking and confusion have run on inappropriate terminology. Remember "progress"?

Secondly, we need to bear in mind that inappropriate semantics sabotage relevant distinctions between relevantly different ideas. The coelacanth's visual pigment modification was straightforward adaptation, and highly non-trivial adaptation at that. The loss of vision may in some cases be degeneration in circumstances of relaxed stabilising selection (I suspect that this applies to the cave fish, but will not push the case) but in other cases such as loss of sight in moles, mole rats and burrowing reptiles for example, it is standard adaptation.... In no case is it "backwards" evolution. You do not wind up with an earlier phenotype. Nor do you get the same effect on re-application of selection. Consider the eyes of snakes for example.... So, less of the Clinton if you don't mind!

>...consider the least algorithmic complexity (LAC) of the program needed to produce a phenotyope. In sideways evolution that quantity remains the same. In backward evolution, it decreases.
Bad luck with the sematic contest! Kindly distinguish between weaseling or trying to bog down a discussion on the one hand, and ensuring clarity and cogency on the other. It does not matter how clear your argument may seem to you; it is the clarity to the bear of little brain at this end that matters, and if you cannot frame your argument in terms that map cogently onto evolutionary practicalities, two of us might as well pack up and go home, leaving the wise to wrangle.

And you need to be terribly careful to ensure that your own internal semantics are sound. Your LAC approach seems terribly persuasive, in fact I feel a considerable affinity for it myself. But it is a poisoned gift. There is a great deal of selection pressure and consequent adaptation for REDUCED LAC! That is one of the reasons that the concept of "evolutionary progress" gained such a bad odour!... Think about it!

>...I thought everyone agreed that DNA code was less "brittle" that computer code.
Not everybody. Not quite everybody. In particular not programmers of any competence in advanced concepts. Such programmers certainly respect the depth of insight and effort that non-trivial emulation of material events requires, but they do not accept the infeasibility of an algorithmic requirement in the absence of compelling persuasion. In particular, just what do you think "brittleness" comprises in computer code? I have just been inflicting on some novices my favourite gotcha. Read a string of numbers of indefinite length, then display the average.

Than which nothing could be simpler.... Guess what percentage write errr... "brittle" code?... Guess how easy it is to fix and it is pointed out to the little dears?... And how useful the exercise is... Guess how much harder it is to write fail-soft and fail-safe real-life-scale applications?... (Hint: Ask Bill Gates!)... Guess whether it can be done at all? (Hint: think costs and consequences.)... Guess how "un-brittle" the code is in nature? (Hint: Thinktion extinction!)

>...What new features were invented?
Ah-ah Mr Clinton sir! Adaptation into new species with "different appearance and a different ecology" and you want new features? Suppose I find a plant that walks around and deposits its seeds in promising spots and you say it isn't new because there are only a few mutations and no fundamentally different molecular architecture? All the actin fibres are conservative; all the DNA uses the standard codons! WHAT a stick-in-the mud! By such lines of reasoning, how many inventions have there been since perhaps the late Cambrian? (If the codon point is forced, then how about the deep Precambrian? When someone designs submersibles with positive buoyancy, that work by inverted hydrodynamics, we say he lacks originality, "inventiveness", because all the components are old stuff? No doubt it all depends on your new definition of "new" or your inventive definition of "inventive"...

... Allopatric speciation certainly makes an easy out and it certainly is a very important factor in evolution (I myself live in an area of highly atypical biodiversity (being energetically destroyed, of course) where I am of the opinion that there has recently been a long series of successive fragmentations and re-consolidations that were responsible for the plethora of speciations.) But there are in fact plenty of cases of sympatric speciation. What made you think anything else?

... What on earth gave you the impression that I thought the deep Precambrian uninteresting? My operative point was that precisely practically all the most dramatically interesting novelties except the homeobox had already happened *by* the early Cambrian. And this btw, includes several items from your list, such as multicellularity, cell specialization, locomotion, hard shells, limbs (a pretty vague concept btw!), digestive systems, circulatory systems, nervous systems, and eyes. All these came before the postscript.... Yes?

And several of them and most of the rest of your list are "uninventive" by your criteria. Wings forsooth! Lungs! Eyes, ears, speech... (I'll spare you the implications of your "etc"!) Every one of them in each of its various forms evolved in the most heartbreakingly pedestrian form from existing precursors. Or do you have a counter-example to squelch me with? Wings? Birds, bats and pterosaurs; not one of them evolved from a two-limbed ancestor and not one of them evolved extra limbs to make up for the deficit once the fore-limbs had been commandeered. And insects evolved their wings from folds of their integument, probably not even new folds! There is string suspicion that the folds were gills similar to the gills of modern Ephemeropteran larvae.... How unimaginative can one get!

>...I don't demand "continual" inventiveness, just enough to account for what we observe.
Accounting for what we observe is less demanding than you seem to think. I think I have already mentioned Orgel's second law as repeatedly quoted in Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Maybe now you are beginning to see the importance of it. No seasoned evolutionist finds it a surprising, however charming they may find it.... All together now:... EVOLUTION IS CLEVERER THAN YOU ARE!!!

There is always another boring option for creating something breathtakingly new. Are you getting the idea of why I find your concept of uninventiveness so... so... well, dammit, so Philistine? These stunningly beautifully unexpected developments in all their richness and you brand them as uninventive?... Well Brig, *I* dunno!

Actually I am not sure just when the biochemistry of vision originated and I bet that a lot of it is procaryotic in origin, but no, I think that the origin of eye-spots is essentially metazoan. What is surprising about it is that it seems to be amazingly early metazoan, or else that there has been even more amazing parallel adaptation. We seem to share our controls for the ontogeny of our visual organs with amazingly remote relatives.

>Parasitism requires that the programming for each component be already done, and that the components be compatable. Getting the programming done and compatable is the inventive part.
Exactly what that means I am unsure. I am sure that it is not particularly true. To the extent that it is true, it does not imply your flavour of inventiveness. All the cases of parasitism that I can think of evolved either from a different parasitism, or from commensalism, or from adventitious proximity, or from predation. The rest is simple Orgel's law. Pedestrian and crushing.

>Evolutionary progress requires new genes.
In one sense you seem to be unaware of the plasticity of the genes we already have. A bigger ragbag of odds and ends and iterated remnants you never saw, except for some obligatorily conservative functions such as ribosomes, cytochromes, actins and so on. Secondly, ...[consider] the degree to which we get horizontal movement of genetic material?... [And consider] that a) the definition of "new" in this sense is a bit slippery and b) such newness as there is can go a long way and is in fact plenty for lots and lots of evolution!

>That [new genes] can come from Darwinian evolution in a closed system has not been shown. Neither in real life (such as experiments with 25,000 generations of bacteria) nor in A-Life....
... Dear, dear dear! 25000 generations hm? And not a really "new" gene? Gosh! And I bet they had billions and billions of bacteria too, positive litres of them! Really conclusive that is! Can't expect Mother Nature to compete with that, nohow!

... What bothers me is that we have not got to the point where we are discussing its relevance to panspermia. I have seen nothing to suggest a defence for the logical necessity for panspermia to explain the terrestrial biogenesis, nor for the more ambitious requirement for periodic enrichment of our gene pool. I have seen no reason to suppose that interstellar space is a good place to originate "inventive" functional genes, let alone waves of epidemics a la our flu pandemics. I have seen nothing to support that splashing organisms off alien planets to voyage comfortably and land safely and colonise effectively on our planet is a mechanism to take seriously.... Cheers,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Mar 08
From: Brig Klyce

Dear Jon -- I am annoyed!! Please take it well.

>... Remember "progress"?
You seem to think that progress is an illusion. But the evolution of people from one-celled life is obviously progressive. If you think there has been no progress, we really are on different planets. When Darwinians attempt to obscure the obvious fact of progress, that's a semantic argument I want to avoid.

>... The loss of vision may in some cases be degeneration ...in other cases ...it is standard adaptation.... In no case is it "backwards" evolution....
The least algorithmic complexity (LAC) of the program needed to produce the phenotyope is reduced. Backwards means LAC decreases. Sideways means LAC stays about the same. Progress means LAC increases.

>...Suppose I find a plant that walks around...
It will have new genes that differ from the ancestral, rooted plants' genes by more than a dozen essential nucleotides per gene -- too many for molecular Darwinism in a closed system to find them.

>... And most of the rest of your list are "uninventive" by your criteria. Wings forsooth! Lungs! Eyes, ears, speech... Every one of them in each of its various forms evolved in the most heartbreakingly pedestrian form from existing precursors.
This is exactly what has not been demonstrated. Obviously, evolution must happen in increments. The system must be sufficiently advanced to accept the next upgrade. But that every upgrade was encoded by random changes in the previous version is not at all obvious. In the closest analogy, computers, the idea is preposterous.

>... Are you getting the idea of why I find your concept of uninventiveness so... so... well, dammit, so Philistine? These stunningly beautifully unexpected developments in all their richness and you brand them as uninventive?...
I said that speciation by itself was uninventive. But all the new features I listed are inventive. That was clear already. This misunderstanding is so blatant that it seems intentional. As I have stated (http://www.panspermia.org/whatdiff.htm), Cosmic Ancestry restores the enchantment of nature. Darwinism is the philosophy that I find empty. (Or, as you say, "heartbreakingly pedestrian!")

>>Evolutionary progress requires new genes.
>In one sense you seem to be unaware of the plasticity of the genes we already have.
Go ahead and deliver your devastating response to W. Ford Doolittle's observation, "Many eukaryotic genes turn out to be unlike those of any known archaea or bacteria; they seem to have come from nowhere" (Scientific American February 2000 p 94). This difficulty is not "notional," it is factual, so, by your logic, another "Just So" story will not suffice.

>Secondly, ...[consider] the degree to which we get horizontal movement of genetic material?...
Horizontal gene transfer comes as a surprise to Darwinism. It is essential for Cosmic Ancestry. It sustains a prediction of the theory. How does it help you show that new genes can be composed by Darwinian evolution, rather than installed by Cosmic Ancestry?

>>That [new genes] can come from Darwinian evolution in a closed system has not been shown. Neither in real life (such as experiments with 25,000 generations of bacteria) nor in A-Life....
>Dear, dear dear! 25000 generations hm? And not a really "new" gene? Gosh!
OK. Zero genes in 25,000 generations of bacteria, in a population of billions. So the rate of new gene production must be too slow for that. How do you reconcile that rate [0 new genes established / 25x10^12 successful replications] with the evolution of higher eukaryotes? The population, number of generations and number of new genes can all be estimated for several examples, surely. Here's a great chance for you to be precise.

>... What bothers me is that we have not got to the point where we are discussing its relevance to panspermia. I have seen nothing to suggest a defence for the logical necessity for panspermia to explain the terrestrial biogenesis.... I have seen no reason to suppose that interstellar space is a good place to originate "inventive" functional genes...
I realize that not many people will read my entire Cosmic Ancestry website. But it is frustrating to deal with an opponent who has not even read the Introduction apparently -- "Cosmic Ancestry implies, we find, that life can only descend from ancestors that were at least as highly evolved as itself. And it means, we believe, that there can be no origin of life from nonliving matter in the finite past." ...Best Regards.


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Mar 10
From: Jon Richfield

Hi Brig.... What we are apart on in this respect is not progress as such, nor even "semantic argument" as such; it is criticism of facile traditional concepts so as to avoid as far as practical, consequences of sloppy semantics or poor anticipation of the logical consequences. Try this one on: Population X encounters environment Y and exhibits fitness level Z. In the course of time, X undergoes genotypic and corresponding phenotypic shift S to produce a new population P. P exhibits fitness level Z+i.... What you might call Progress, yes? What I might call adaptation, no?

But you see, calling it adaptation is better than calling it progress, isn't it? No? You can't be serious, of *course* it is! No, I insist it is! Look, I can demonstrate it: I can measure the adaptation as a function of i! Remember i? The increment in fitness?... Or, do you reckon that the same can be said for "progress" as a concept? Why should progress not also be linked to i, and equally easily? Plus, it has a nobility of concept, lacking in pedestrian adaptation. It aims for the stars, ever building the higher and the finer....

But what I neglected to mention was that S involved the loss of eyes. X had moved into a burrowing niche and encountered a fine fitness level (Z), but with a strong selection against infection, strain and damage to the eyes continuously exposed to dirt, abrasion and other insult. Perhaps these were gopher-like creatures evolving onto mole rats? No?... So we have this nobility of progress essentially consisting in loss of eyes for the sake of i. We have a simpler organism, using simpler mechanisms to achieve a higher level of adaptation, of effectiveness, of viability as a population, a species if you like. Once the process has gone to completion and a lot of ancillary lumber has been ditched, they will not be able to get back, not even as well as snakes did, right? Possibly some re-re-remooote descendants might evolve into bat-like sonar users, but...

But still, as "progress" goes, it seems a rather ignominious example, doesnít it? I canít speak for you, but a lot of people I know would speak of such adaptation as retrogressive rather than progressive. And you will admit that compared to tapeworms, my example is pretty mild! And tapeworms are even milder compared to mitochondria. And mitochondria are positively frontiersmen, compared to hydrogenosomes.... For plodding, unromantic adaptation there is no such problem; just a mindless assessment of fitness.

So, you see, Darwinism has no quarrel with "progress", just a lack of need for it, even a lack of meaning for it. About progress there is scope for argument, plus no lack of a clear basis for its assessment. Consider the wings of birds or the fangs of sabre-tooths (both marsupial and placental). They are surely examples of progress, arenít they, in the noblest sense? And yet, as specialisations of forelimbs or commitments to a particular style of predation, they are disasters! What one witness sees as progress, another sees as painting the population into a doomed, specialist corner. And there is nothing about either view of progress that helps the Darwinist make any usefully falsifiable predictions. Notional LACs are chill comfort in such contexts, no? Do you find it surprising, or in any scientific sense reprehensible, that for about a century now, the trend has been towards sneering dismissively at the concept of progress? It may not be meaningless, it may be heart-warming, but it certainly is not very useful in context. In other contexts perhaps, but please, letís deal with one context at a time!... Of course, if you have a justification for the usefulness of this concept in evolutionary philosophy or practice, go for it! I really would love to see it.

> ...[in backwards evolution] The least algorithmic complexity (LAC) of the program needed to produce the phenotyope is reduced. Backwards means LAC decreases. Sideways means LAC stays about the same. Progress means LAC increases.
Brig, you really will have to be more careful. Is this argument your own? If so, you have a lot of work to do. If it is someone elseís, think hard about it before you buy it. Consider: you want "progress" to be a function of the LAC of the production of the phenotype??? I donít really know you, but I assume that you have non-trivial knowledge of computer concepts, and in particular, algorithmic concepts. What is the context for your criterion for "least" in this discussion? Least, given the physiological basis of the organism as it stands? Or least, given a notional ideal organism? If the former, then you are equating "evolutionary progress" with Heath-Robinsonism. The more elaborate the mechanism with its LAC (armoured eyelids instead of loss of eyes perhšps?) the more the progress? Retention of functional gills once lungs have developed? Surely you are aware of the implications for selection pressure? Or do you reject selection? I find it hard to believe that that is what you have in mind. If the latter, you not only wind up with the conflict I mentioned previously, between the wing and the paw, but between progress and effectiveness. And I would hate to see how you avoid teleology if that is the line you support.

Would you care to put your argument a little more tightly? As you have stated it here so far, it needs caulking. I cannot believe that you have said what you meant to say, so rather than waste the time of both of us on an Aunt Sally, Iíll wait for something more solid.

"A dozen essential nucleotides"? That is a confident assessment! What did you base it on? "too different for molecular Darwinism..." Are you sure you meant "nucleotides "and not "genes"? I donít follow. You and I have genes differing by a lot more than a dozen nucleotides and unless we are stunningly similar genetically, some of those will be functional differences. And humans are regarded as an unusually uniform species, genetically. Would you like to compare gene differences in dogs or rats? And what do you think the necessary process of adaptation includes, genetically speaking? Only saltational changes? Not so, but far otherwise, while we are swapping Just So stories!

And just what do you mean by a "closed system"? A family? An island? A continent? A planet? A solar system? A galaxy? And if a continent is too closed, why shouldn't importation of genes from the rest of the planet be as effective as, and a lot more plausible than the the gene ex machina that falleth as the gentle rain from heaven plump into the right genome beneath? And if a planet is not enough, then why should a solar system be enough? And if a planet *is* enough then how come it also is tailor made for the alien genome impatiently waiting for its splice of progress?... It wonít scour, Brig, it really wonít.

>... Obviously, evolution must happen in increments. The system must be sufficiently advanced to accept the next upgrade. But that every upgrade was encoded by random changes in the previous version is not at all obvious. In the closest analogy, computers, the idea is preposterous.
REALLY??? Who demonstrated that? And a lot more importantly, how? We are back to quantitative argument here and your only argument is an assertion, so far anyway. We do at least agree that there must be adaptation (OK, if the term upsets you, call it progress!) in increments applied to existing genomes. Evolutionary opportunism, it was called by, I think, G.G.Simpson. But if you insist that the increments be too large for heuristic plausibility, why, firstly you are not talking Darwinism, and secondly, you must demonstrate some logical basis to defend your insistence. I suspect that even Gould would have his reservations on such a view....

...I reject your concept of inventiveness radically, and the greater the detail, (still pretty vague, of course, so I am not yet refusing to listen) the less meaningful, let alone clear, it seems to me. I am sorry that you have missed the conceptual and aesthetic depths of Darwinism. For my part the "enchantment of nature" as restored by "Cosmic Ancestry" is beyond respectful discussion until suitably plausible mechanisms and evidence are presented, if only at the conceptual, Just So story level. So far your Just So Stories are lacking; all I have is passion and fantasy. A good Just So story needs more than that!

... Did you seriously expect every eukaryotic gene a) to occur in some form in a prokaryote? b) To leave us an obliging chapter-and-verse history of its development during the last 1e9Y or so?... Have a HEART!

> Horizontal gene transfer comes as a surprise to Darwinism.
UUUHHH??? Now THAT came as a surprise to me at least! Brig, yígottabe joking! Would you mind explaining in simple terms what you had in mind? Classical Darwinism would have no problem with it at all, because classical Darwinism did not even know how genes worked, nor even the nature of their behaviour. NeoDarwinism, in particular in the post 1950s, had no problem with horizontal transfer at all. The transfer of microbial genetic material was stale news anyway and only the scope and remoteness and later the variety of the transfers were surprising. Personally I find the scope and pervasiveness of endosymbiosis more impressive. Conceptually, in evolutionary relevance, the two are pretty close, qualitatively, (speaking off the cuff).

... Firstly there is the question of how you measure the emergence of new genes. What genes were being sought? ANY new gene, or CERTAIN new genes? That changes the field of play a bit you know; like by several orders of magnitude. And you seem to be decidedly finicky about what counts as new or "inventive" anyway. So pardon my insouciance!

... If we are to get an "inventive" gene and it doesnít show in a few litres in a few years, then all that tells us is that if it is to show at all, we need more luck or more tickets. To say how much more luck means that we need to know the targets a lot better (what would count as a hit and what a hit would demand of the system). To assess what more tickets might mean, we ask ourselves how many litres there are outside the lab, with how many microbes, and over what period. What order of magnitude shift are we talking of now? See why I spoke of precision? Ten orders of magnitude of precision added to your "zero" would leave us very comfortable. A hundred orders would definitely leave us very uncomfortable indeed. But then we would be equally uncomfortable with cosmic contributions if a hundred orders of magnitude were required! And we can ask as well, if we find that the precision of your "zero" is such as to make terrestrial sources unpersuasive, why extraterrestrial sources should be any more generous!

... Brig, nothing in your intro even begins to address the problems of: a) COULD extraterrestrial sources of genetic material on Earth exist b) COULD Darwinism work at a given level of your poorly defined concept of "inventiveness" c) IF the answers to the previous questions were favourable, then: d) WHAT REASON is there to believe that extraterrestrial sources are a more plausible source of genetic material than everyday, "heartbreakingly pedestrian Darwinsim"? And, I am afraid, lots more. I do not deny the possibility of extraterrestrial life, nor even its ... well, say reasonable plausibility. I do not deny the conceivability of our ever having fielded a viable parcel on Earth at some time or another.... But I certainly want to see a good deal more substance before I swallow all that without a pinch of salt. Innocent inquiry works well in the rest of science; why should panspermia be exempt?... Hope this cools your annoyance somewhat; then we can get down to cases.... Cheers,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Mar 10
From: Brig Klyce

Jon, thanks for yours. We are definitely not reaching each other.... Who knows if anyone is following this anyway.

> What we are apart on in this respect is not progress as such, nor even "semantic argument" as such;...What you might call Progress, yes? What I might call adaptation, no?
NO. Adaptation, such as examples I have already given (coelacanth [thanks for the proper spelling], moth), requiring no lengthy new instructions, but only one or two point mutations, or requiring simply the expression of genes already installed, is fine. Darwinism can do that. Computer examples corroborate the process.

Progress, such as the long list of inventive examples already given (eyes, wings, lungs, etc.), requiring new genes with dozens to hundreds of essential, properly sequenced nucleotides, is different. Computer models do not corroborate this.

> So we have this nobility of progress essentially consisting in loss of eyes....
Totally wrong. Progress requires new genes. But I am repeating myself.

> So, you see, Darwinism has no quarrel with "progress", just a lack of need for it, even a lack of meaning for it.
How about "no credible account of it?" But Darwinists prefer to obscure this problem by pretending the concept of progress lacks meaning. This is exactly the quagmire I mentioned several posts ago as one to avoid. When Darwinists use doublespeak like this, it is no wonder that creationists object.

> ...Is this [least algorithmic complexity] argument your own? If so, you have a lot of work to do.
No doubt there is work to do. But legalistic argument from Darwinism is unbecoming. How about actually tackling the problem. Manfred Eigen, to his credit, does tackle it. Unfortunately, he doesn't get very far. If the population is large enough, and the loss of function due to wrong mutations is not too severe, his method can find a slightly fitter allele that has five changed nucleotides. But they can't really be "essential," because the interim alleles were able to survive. So he must propose that there are functional alleles that are only one nucleotide different (Hamming distance one) linking all eukaryotic genes to the few hundred (or few thousand) genes possessed by the first prokaryotes on Earth.

> ...What is the context for your criterion for "least" in this discussion?
Closest to zero.

> Or do you reject selection?
No.

> Would you care to put your argument a little more tightly?... Rather than waste the time of both of us on an Aunt Sally, Iíll wait for something more solid.
I will adopt the same position with respect to Darwinism. Let me know when you have a credible account for progress. Or a demonstration in either biology or computers.

>> [A plant that walks] will have new genes that differ from any of the ancestral, rooted plants' genes by more than a dozen essential nucleotides -- too different for molecular Darwinism in a closed system to find them.
> Are you sure you meant "nucleotides "and not "genes"? I donít follow.
Suppose the gene is 1000 nucleotides, and the needed mutation is different from the starting gene by one essential changed nucleotide. The number of genes that differ from the starting gene by one changed nucleotide is 3000. Darwinism might find one in 3000.

The number of genes that differ from the starting gene by twelve essential changed nucleotides is something like (3^12) x (1000! / 12!). My math may be wrong but not enough to rescue the situation. It's bejillions. More than 10^100, whereas 10^50 is about the number of genes that it would be theoretically possible to test on Earth in 4 billion years. Darwinism will never find it.

> And just what do you mean by a "closed system"?
...I'm saying that a system that contains life cannot be closed. Your counter appears to be, of course it can, we just can't demonstrate it. Unscientific, don't you think?

>> Obviously, evolution must happen in increments. The system must be sufficiently advanced to accept the next upgrade. But that every upgrade was encoded by random changes in the previous version is not at all obvious. In the closest analogy, computers, the idea is preposterous.
> REALLY??? Who demonstrated that?
Who demonstrated that milk is white?? It's well known. If anyone claimed that his computer had generated Wordperfect 6.2 from 6.1, by itself, you'd know he was mistaken.

That horizontal gene transfer is important in evolution has been vigorously resisted by Darwinism. Otherwise why did W. Ford Doolittle recently urge Darwinists to drop their opposition to the concept (in an article I could point you to with more time. Will do on request.)... Until recently Darwinism claimed [horizontal gene transfer] was rare, unnecessary, and possibly irrelevant for eukaryotes. It strengthens the case for CA because it sustains a prediction of the theory.

> ...WHAT REASON is there to believe that extraterrestrial sources are a more plausible source...
We know that Earth originated 4.6 billion years ago. Probably it was too hot for any life to survive for the first several hundred million years....


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Mon Mar 13
From: Jon Richfield

...You have been consistently cheerful about your figures for the magnitude of genetic change necessary to achieve progress, and equally cheerful as to the characteristics that qualify as "inventive". To me it looks like accepting your own assertions as fact and redefining evolution to suit your ideas, instead of fitting the ideas to what we see in nature and criticising a body of theory in its own terms, or at least the implications of its own terms. What we do see is frequently considerable phenotypic change based on modest genetic change, plus a bit of swapping and juggling. You, on the other hand, invoke a source (the cosmos) with no provenance for the changes you describe, and yet you want detailed histories for "Darwinistic" Just So stories??? And then you redefine "progress" to exclude adaptation? What sort of "progress" is counter-adaptative?

You will not find that concept [new genes] in any modern textbook I can think of, not using your definition of "new" genes, anyway.... And if you did I would have to join a queue to laugh at it!... In the face of my challenges, you have failed to give [progress] any meaning beyond "new genes" and that is not a viable meaning. It requires no doublespeak to reject meaninglessness, which in turn, requires "no credible account of it". Or am I missing something? I have told you what adaptation is in evolutionary terms; why can't you tell me what "progress" is?

>...legalistic argument from Darwinism is unbecoming. How about actually tackling the problem.
So is pejorative terminology such as "legalistic" when you fail to answer an argument. I challenge you to find anything legalistic in anything I have said that requires a comment. I doubt you can find much that requires no answer either! And in this case you have not sufficiently stated the problem to support a demand for an answer in your turn.... Until you tell me what "progress" is, apart from "new genes" and being somehow different from adaptation, I no more can nor need to, than to explain why green ideas sleep furiously (for which your cogent explanation would no doubt be highly 'progressive"! :-) ) In short, and yet again: No meaning, no account!

>> Are you sure you meant "nucleotides "and not "genes"? I don't follow.
>Suppose the gene is 1000 nucleotides, and the needed mutation is different from the starting gene by one essential changed nucleotide. The number of genes that differ from the starting gene by one changed nucleotide is 3000. Darwinism might find one in 3000....The number of genes that differ from the starting gene by twelve essential changed nucleotides is ...bejillions. More than 10^100, whereas 10^50 is about the number of genes that it would be theoretically possible to test on Earth in 4 billion years. Darwinism will never find it.
No wonder I didn't follow. Apart from the question of whether there are 3000 possible single point-changes to a 1000 (more like 1002, actually; triplet codons, remember?) base-pair gene (8000 changes would be more realistic actually, if you think it out more carefully) you don't explain what you mean by "essential". But in any case, in the exuberance of your arithmetic, you omitted to divide by the number of genes among those bejillions that would have done equally as well as the one that finally emerges, or possibly better. You also fail to explain why the new genes would come more plausibly from space than from Earth, and how just the working versions would home in on just the needy genome. Or do you propose that there are bejillions of genomes just hanging round to accept the cosmic paraclete? And why do those bejillions never seem to cause "new" genes in experimental cultures?

Then again, have you noticed what a problem it is to insert a eukaryotic gene and make it work? Have you noticed that your "new genes" don't just hang around chromosomes, but are integrated with usually elaborate control structures? Or are you suggesting that panspermic gene complexes for wings, lungs, eyes etc are simply floating around the galaxy in the absence of adaptive selection, waiting for a needy organism to emerge on earth, so that they can sweep in and dock with the target?

...I'm saying that a system that contains life cannot be closed. Your counter appears to be, of course it can, we just can't demonstrate it. Unscientific, don't you think?
Not so, but far otherwise! I am saying that unless you have a source of infinity up your sleeve, *all* our systems are closed. I demonstrate it by simple ostention: the distance to the bounds of the observable universe are finite and therefore the number of organisms in it is finite.... Your move!... Let's see you demonstrate infinity, *plus* infinite access to infinity! :-)... Or by "open system", do you really mean "closed system, but with a jail yard"?

If anyone claimed that his computer had generated Wordperfect 6.2 from 6.1, by itself, you'd know he was mistaken.
Brig, you are nailed! Well known? I reckon it is! It is the well known old "Blind Watchmaker" gambit! What is worse, even if we DID buy that one, if you had stopped to think about it, it is an even harder answer for the panspermist to field! Darwinists haven't bothered with it for years. Even in the eighties, when Dawkins savaged it, he was flogging a dead horse as far as the professionals were concerned. For the public it still was worth discussion of course. And the book is such a good read. Dawkins writes charmingly, doesn't he? Have you read "River out of Eden?" it is positively lyrical; a beautiful demonstration of how sound science can be presented literately to a literate public.

But I won't hold you to this one. I expect it was just your annoyance showing. Don't bother to follow it up unless you can demonstrate the holes in the form of applied evolutionary work. And don't bother to invoke your "new genes" unless you have some quantitative support for their necessity and their nature. So far I have seen nothing better than the (hardly stunning) observation that we cannot retrace the source of all our genes to prokaryotes.

... I have been in contact with Darwinism and Darwinists for decades, and the fact that a few cliques failed to keep up with developments [horizontal gene transfer] or keep their ideas coherent, is hardly exciting. Rather explain to me in words of as few syllables as possible, when genetics first (or maybe last) denied horizontal genetic transfer, and when Darwinism first (or last) distanced itself from genetics. Not since the 1940s to my knowledge! Probably a good deal earlier. And I NEVER have been in an argument in which anyone denied horizontal transfer. And a good deal more to the point, suppose you explain in what way horizontal transfer conflicts with Darwinism. The mind boggles! (Mine anyway!)

The increasing frequency of recognised transfer mechanisms is entirely reasonable. Genuine biologists do not invent science-fiction scenarios without good reason. Go back a few decades and ask yourself what the perceptions and the evidence were. THEN sneer, if you can stop blushing long enough. Note that to say that "Darwinism" said so is only meaningful if "Darwinism" logically implies it. That *would* be an impressive thing for you to demonstrate; let's see you have a go! Would you like me to outline the basics so that you have a framework to go on?

How it strengthens the case for Darwinism? Are you serious? Given the apparently independent evolution of at least dozens of essentially identical biochemical structures of great complexity, and in apparently implausibly short times, you find nothing comforting in new evidence that each "creative" event needed to have emerged only once, after which it could be shared? And how do you see it weakening the case for Darwinism? You would not need to edit a single sentence of 1930s or 1940s statements of the modern synthesis to accommodate it.... Or have I missed a sentence? :-)

And you say it strengthens the case for CA, does it? Fat chance! It makes demands that would blast the idea out of the water if only it were a coherent theory! Consider for instance the paragraph on the subject of the "bejillions" of possible changes to a gene! And that is just for starters. For a free demo of risk-free armchair skeet shooting, all you need do is to formulate a coherent scenario of the mechanisms of panspermia (by all means invite Sir Fred and friends along) and call me in! Not that I don't have anything better to do, but I don't mind going out of my way for friends.

...these questions are addressed on other pages of CA.
Then I missed them, in any viable form anyway. Would you care to point me to any particularly persuasive paragraphs? For instance, where do you handle the bejillions problem? Or the gene complex injection problem? Each of them can sink you before you even slip your moorings. And nowhere do you say anything about inventiveness that has anything to do with Darwinism as he is spoke. It might sink Darwinism as YOU speak him, but that hardly dismays me.

... Darwinism can only take life sideways and backwards.
Trenchant, certainly. Assertive definitely. Persuasive... Wellll... Brig, I have a little book that tells me different. I have an intellectual structure that never even heard this. I have a bogometer that is careening wildly at the edge of its shelf. I have a funnybone that is complaining bitterly about unfair competition... You will have to do a LOT better. Extravagant claims demand extravagant support and really, the support you have offered so far... Well actually, what HAVE you offered, apart from White milk and your Wordperfect versions?

And what have I offered? If you mean originality, nothing of course. But you might find it useful to have a read of say... Evolutionary Biology by Futuyma, or Evolution by Ridley. Both give quite a lot of material that would need a lot of undignified wriggling to describe as "Darwinism only taking life sideways and backwards." I am afraid that you will find them more challenging reading than the popular works, but they are well written, so they should repay some honest work.... Let's face it Brig, this is looking more and more like the burning deck whence all but he had fled.!... Go well,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Mar 20
From: Brig Klyce
To: Jon Richfield

Dear Jon -- You are probably a fun guy to talk with, but this exchange is wearing on me.... The best use for it may be that it will exemplify to future historians of science the way conflicting paradigms can not communicate!

> ...[you should criticise] a body of theory in its own terms...
This is exactly what an existing paradigm tries to constrict everyone to do, but which a new paradigm cannot do, because it has new terms.

> ...no provenance for the changes you describe...
The concept that life, highly evolved and all, could come from the infinite past is not registering with you, obviously.

> ...What sort of "progress" is counter-adaptative?
Never said any was. Adaptive can be any direction on the compass. Progress must be Northerly. (Hoping a new image will get through to you.) So the inverse is the case: adaptation can be non-progressive. Is that what you meant?

> ...You will not find that concept [new genes required for progress] in any textbook....
Of course not. But many Darwinists, like Susumu Ohno, consider new genes necessary. Ohno suggests that gene duplication followed by mutations in the inactive allele could produce new genes. It's not in textbooks because the details haven't been worked out. In my opinion they never will be.

> ...Until you tell me what "progress" is, apart from "new genes"
Suppose there is a planet covered with bacterial scum. Over billions of years, the scum changes colors in ways that do not require sophisticated new metabolism. Scum to scum. That's no progress. Or, imagine a planet with plants that change from 3-lobed to 5-lobed leaves, and back and forth. That's no progress.

Imagine another planet where scum develops some items from the long list already given, like cell specialization, lungs, wings, etc. That's progress.

> ...No wonder I didn't follow. Apart from the question of whether there are 3000 possible single point-changes to a 1000 ...(8000 changes would be more realistic actually, if you think it out more carefully)
The number of genes that differ from a given gene (1000 nucleotides in length) by one nucleotide (Hamming distance = 1) is 3000. If I allow the Hamming distance to be 0 or 1, it's 3001. (Were you thinking 4000?) If, for some strange reason, I allow the changed nucleotide to be in either the coding strand, as originally, or the complementary strand, but not both (a mismatch then, and irrelevant half the time), I can get 6000 possibilities. Make that 6001 if I also allow the Hamming distance of 0. (Is this where you came to 8000?)

> ...you don't explain what you mean by "essential".
An essential nucleotide is a standard concept in Darwinism.

> ...But in any case, in the exuberance of your arithmetic, you omitted to divide by the number of genes among those bejillions that would have done equally as well as the one that finally emerges, or possibly better.
Mutations that benefit an organism by any means other than 1) disabling a program or 2) changing the analog of an identity code (a random code) are extremely rare. To maintain that many mutations would lead to a good, progressive outcome is unsupported.

>... Or do you propose that there are bejillions of genomes just hanging round to accept the cosmic paraclete? And why do those bejillions never seem to cause "new" genes in experimental cultures?
New genes do not appear in closed "experimental cultures" because they are closed. They do appear in our biosphere because it is an open system. They are not "caused."

> ...Have you noticed what a problem it is to insert a eukaryotic gene and make it work?
Agreed, even when the right new gene is available it doesn't always land in the right place on the first try. Lots of tinkering is still required. But there are many accepted examples of eukaryotes that acquire and employ new genes, via viruses for example.

> ...unless you have a source of infinity up your sleeve, *all* our systems are closed. I demonstrate it by simple ostention: the distance to the bounds of the observable universe are finite and therefore the number of organisms in it is finite.
Before Columbus, people were equally sure that the world was flat. Thinking "all our systems are closed" is a Western custom that needs to be exposed for what it is. The distance to any actually observed object is finite, sure; but in no way has the physical world been shown to be closed.

> ...Have you read "River out of Eden?"
Yes. Rather carefully.

> ...to say that "Darwinism" said so is only meaningful if "Darwinism" logically implies it.
In other words, even if the theory makes wrong a prediction, it's not a problem. A later Darwinist can always maintain that the previous mistake, although stated, was not "logically implied" by the theory.

>... Would you care to point me to any particularly persuasive paragraphs? For instance, where do you handle the bejillions problem?
I do not maintain that lengthy, meaningful strands of nucleotides were created by random processes. (Selected, but not created). So I do not have a bejillions problem.

> ...Or the gene complex injection problem?
Try http://www.panspermia.org/virus.htm
or http://www.panspermia.org./introns.htm
or http://www.panspermia.org/sexual.htm
and the What'sNEW items linked from them.

> ...you might find it useful to have a read of say... Evolutionary Biology by Futuyma, or Evolution by Ridley.
I've read Futuyma, and both Ridleys (Mark more than Matt). Let me recommend to you: "In Real or Artificial Life, Is Evolutionary Progress in a Closed System Possible?" at http://www.panspermia.org/proof5.htm and "Is Sustained Macroevolutionary Progress Possible?" at http://www.panspermia.org/astrobio01.htm

Jon, although I've indulged in it myself, I wish to discontinue trying to score rhetorical points. If you have evidence that answers my questions (in the last two referenced CA pages) in favor of Darwinism, tell me about it.... Thanks.... Brig

The following post has been edited to about 5% of its original length. A brief reply from Klyce ends the exchange.

Subject: Panspermia
Date: Tue Mar 21 09:42:25 EST 2000
From: Jon Richfield

Hi Brig,... You have failed to establish a single point except where there was common cause. There was precious little on which we could even agree to differ.... For instance, you have failed to make sense of the concept of "progress", let alone define it.

Darwinism... does not deal in "progress" for exactly the reason that "progress" is hard to define meaningfully and I certainly have never seen it defined usefully, least of all by you.... Bear in mind that you have your own private definition of "new genes" and it is not clear that it is the same definition used by "Darwinists"... Why should there be an inactive allele at all?

I also told you a few things ...about why some of your "progressive" items (specifically including wings and lungs) do not meet your own requirements. Until you can handle them, no sale, no "progress". But PLENTY of adaptation everywhere!...

Brig, you tempt me to unkindness.... Round here some of us are positively hidebound in our arithmetic.... but we need not labour the point....So, one more time: "What is an essential nucleotide" and what made you think the term was standard in "Darwinism"?... And how do the paracletes miss the autosomal nuclei and aim instead for the gametes?...

What I am saying is not that the world is flat, Mr Columbus, but that whether it IS round, or even flat, I cannot see through mist or mountains. Even if we accept Steady State, the panspermic universe sure as hell is closed in the sense of most of the visible universe being out of our reach....

And besides I am still waiting to hear how selection for terrestrial adaptation occurred in the tail of Halley's comet.... I grant you this: you may not be internally consistent, but you are steady in your inconsistency.... If you have found my style irksome, sorry,... If I had not surfed your site, I would seriously begin to wonder whether you have been trolling me.... Cheers,... Jon


Subject: Panspermia
Date: Tue Mar 21 18:18:17 -0600
From: Brig Klyce

Dear Jon... I have given you several examples and one fairly precise definition of evolutionary progress. But as I said early on, if you doubt that there has been progress in evolution, we come from different planets. (Do you doubt that there has been progress in the evolution of computers? If you do, then at least you're consistent. If you do not, apply same criteria to biology and see if it helps.)

My thesis is that evolutionary progress in a closed system has not been demonstrated in real life or in computer models. But apparently you do not comprehend progress in the first place. Furthermore, you seem to have trouble understanding how our biosphere might be part of an open system. Therefore I see no point in continuing....

Thank you for your time and effort.

WhatsNEW

Essay on Panspermia: Version ii or thereabouts -- Jon Richfield has updated his essay [n.d.].
CCNet, 11 January 2001 contains a special section, "The Panspermia / Biogenesis Debate."
CCNet, 18 December 2000 contains another position statement from Jon Richfield [scroll down to message 11].
A reply from Nate Cull, 21 April 2000, addresses this exchange.
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