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Newfound Bacteria Fueled by Radiation

Newfound Bacteria Fueled by Radiation
By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006; Page A07

They are the microbes from hell, or at least from hell’s Zip code.

A team of scientists has found bacteria living nearly two miles below ground, dining on sulfur in a world of steaming water and radioactive rock. A single cell may live a century before it gets up the energy to divide. The organisms have been there for millions of years. They will probably survive as long as the planet does, drawing energy from the stygian world around them.

The microbes, found in water spilling out of a fissure in a South African gold mine in 2003, are not entirely new, the researchers report in today’s issue of Science. They are similar to ones found in other extreme environments and among the most primitive life forms ever described.

What is unusual is that their underground home contains no nutrients traceable to photosynthesis, the sunlight-harnessing process that fuels all life on Earth’s surface. Such a community is an oddity on this planet — and is of interest to people looking for life on other ones.

“There is an organism that dominates that environment by feeding off an essentially inexhaustible source of energy — radiation,” said Tullis C. Onstott, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the team. “The bottom line is: Water plus rocks plus radiation is enough to sustain life for millennia.”

Click the link above for the rest of the article.

Bacteria are by far the fittest and oldest form of life on this planet. They live on and inside us thus go everywhere we go including into space. They’ve been discovered everywhere on the earth where liquid water can exist even when it has to be under extreme pressure not to turn into steam from the heat. They vastly outnumber anything in else number of individuals and biomass. They ostensibly preceded any other kind of life by billions of years and still exist today in forms indistinguishable from those in past (as far we can tell what they were like in the past which isn’t a whole lot). One wonders how or why higher plants and animals managed to evolve and survive amidst these masters of survival. A interesting thing to think about is that bacteria, along with all other life on the earth, is doomed in another several billion years when the sun turns into a red giant and fries the earth to a crisp. That means the bacteria that have survived for billions of years have lived about half their lifetime. The only way bacteria could survive longer is if they can somehow find a new habitable planet and translocate to it. This seems to require telescopes to locate habitable planets and spacecraft to get from here to there. Maybe that’s why we are here – to make sure all life doesn’t die when the earth is no longer habitable. Maybe that’s been the “plan” all along and this has happened before many times on many other worlds with ours just one more link in the chain. Why else would be building telescopes that can find planets around other stars and spacecraft that can escape the solar system? There’s no practical benefit in it except perhaps for this. Maybe it’s a biological imperative and we really have no choice about building telescopes and spacecraft.

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29 Responses to Newfound Bacteria Fueled by Radiation

  1. This bacteria has 45 to 100 years generation times. You are not going to get a lot of evolution out of something that divides that slowly.

    Claims that this bacteria is somehow more ancient than others is purely a philosophical supposition. We are already know from Doolittle that there is no tree of life in single cell organisms.

  2. Of course, then you have to wonder why living is so darn imperative to begin with.

    It’s worth pondering from a bunch of different directions, though. But I’d generally agree that if there’s a way to save life on this planet, humanity is it.

  3. Dave; if your hypothetical designers, which I understand are not necessarily metaphysical or supernatural, could plan all of this unfoldment, is it really logical to suppose that the continuation of their life-giving plans would be based on the hope that creatures like us would find new planets on which to continue their work? Why wouldn’t they just seed these hypothetical planets themselves? You have to admit that the technological powers of such a group of beings would have to be of awesome proportions; almost certainly awesome enough to manage the seeding of other planets and not leave it to the scattered possibilities of an unknowable future. ?

  4. @ Jehu and Nullasalus

    Nice insights!

    I wonder how complex things have to be before materialists finally give up?

    One day there will be a colony of bacteria that spell out “We didn’t evolve you fools. Go read uncommon descent” and the NDErs will say, “bacteria have evolved and learned to use the internet!”

    such is the state of things…

  5. 5

    For over two billion years cyano-bacteria ted the fossil record in colonies called stromatalites. Contrary to what naturalistic thought would expect, these very first cyano-bacteria colonies scientists find in the fossil record are shown to have been preparing the earth for more advanced life to appear, from the very start of their existence, by “detoxifying’ the earth of sulfur, and other “toxic” elements, and slowly building up the necessary oxygen for future life to exist on earth. Interestingly, the percentage of oxygen that slowly built up in the atmosphere is now the exact percentage it needs to be to be of maximum biological utility for oxygen breathing life-forms to exist (21%). This necessary percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere is maintained by an impressive amount of complex feedback that gives us further reason to believe the earth is extremely unique in its ability to support complex life in this universe. If the oxygen were only a few percentage lower, oxygen breathing life-forms would become severely hampered in their ability to metabolize energy; if a few percentage higher, there would be uncontrollable outbreaks of fire across the land. This falls right in line with the anthropic hypothesis and has no explanation from any theory based on blind chance as to why the very first bacterial life found in the fossil record would suddenly, from the very start of their appearance on earth, start working to prepare the earth for future life to appear. Nor can naturalism explain why, once the bacteria had prepared the earth for higher life forms, they continue to steadfastly maintain the proper balanced atmospheric conditions that are of maximum benefit for higher life-forms.
    Though naturalists claim stunning proof for evolution because bacteria can “quickly” adapt to “detoxify” new man-made materials, such as nylon and the polystyrene of coffee cups, when carefully looked at on the molecular level, the bacteria still have not demonstrated a gain in genetic information. The bacteria are still, just, complacently detoxifying the earth of toxins as they have always done for billions of years. Even though naturalists claim this is something brand new, that should be considered stunning proof for evolution, I’m not nearly as impressed, with their stunning proof, as they think I should be (Answers in Genesis; Nylon Eating Bacteria; 2007)! This overriding truth of never being able to violate the entropy of information by natural means applies to the “non-living realm” of viruses, such as bird flu, as well (Ryan Lucas Kitner, Ph.D. 2006).

  6. —> #4: jpark320:

    I wonder how complex things have to be before materialists finally give up? One day there will be a colony of bacteria that spell out “We didn’t evolve you fools. Go read uncommon descent” and the NDErs will say, “bacteria have evolved and learned to use the internet!”
    —-

    Isn’t that what the Neo-Darwinist theory (random mutations+natural selection) is claiming already? Namely, purely by random mutations bacteria learned how to join into small, symbiotic communities which are the original eukaryotic cells. These “communities” (single cellular eukaryotes) could replicate as a whole. Later these communities joined as whole units into larger, symbiotic societies of communities (like villages joining into a state), forming thus multicellular organisms, eventually us, humans. Hence, their purely random mutations + natural selection mechanism explains, according to Neo-Darwinism, how bacteria learned not only how to spell and use internet, but how to create internet in the first place, along with all the science, technology, industry,… underlying it.

    In short they are already claiming that RM+NS algorithm is intelligent and fast enough to solve all these problems over the time given, using the populations available for its blind trial and error.

    How exactly do they know that it is so and not any other way, they are not telling. And if you doubt, or god forbid, ask them publicly, they will fire you if you happen to work for them, otherwise they will sue you into oblivion. That’s how you know they are right.

  7. Dave, to suppose that higher sentient life forms exist for the purpose of hosting non-sentient bacterial life seems counterintuitive, especially considering anthropic fine tuning.

    Since bacterial life forms don’t seem to require the same level of precision tuning of planetary conditions that are required to sustain higher life forms, there would be no apparent purpose served in developing complex biological, sentient systems to preserve the lower life forms, since they could quite probably survive on a great number of planets (given the article you posted) far in excess of those which are earth-like, without much aid.

    The scenario has a Rube Goldberg feel, not to mention it’s rather creepy — that human existence, aspirations, dreams, not to mention joy, sorrow, pain, pleasure, and so on, are nothing but mechanisms, somehow intended to ensure the survival of “life” in any form; and that our universal purpose as fathers, mothers, musicians, scientists, and the like, is ultimately not for much more than to play host to bacteria.

    To me it makes more sense if it works the other way around, that bacterial life and other lower creations (fungi, etc) are designed to aid the survival of higher sentient life forms, as well as work for our benefit and pleasure. (After all, yeast is good for making beer!)

    Beneficial Bacteria
    Harmless and beneficial bacteria far outnumber harmful varieties. Because they are capable of producing so many enzymes necessary for the building up and breaking down of organic compounds, bacteria are employed extensively by humans—for soil enrichment with leguminous crops (see nitrogen cycle), for preservation by pickling, for fermentation (as in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages, vinegar, and certain cheeses), for decomposition of organic wastes (in septic tanks, in some sewage disposal plants, and in agriculture for soil enrichment) and toxic wastes, and for curing tobacco, retting flax, and many other specialized processes. Bacteria frequently make good objects for genetic study: large populations grown in a short period of time facilitate detection of mutations, or rare variations. (From Reference.com)

    Then again, I may be oversimplifying your statements, or reading too much into them.

  8. bornagain777

    Just as interesting as the atmosphere being oxygenated just right is the construction of massive underground reservoirs and filling them up with fossil fuels so when the technologic species comes along there’s a ready-made supply of coal, oil, and natural gas waiting for them to power a globe spanning industrial civilization. Pretty darn convenient. Happy coincidence or planned that way?

  9. apollos

    they could quite probably survive on a great number of planets (given the article you posted) far in excess of those which are earth-like, without much aid.

    How are they going to locate suitable planets with liquid water without billion dollar telescopes and how are they supposed to travel to them without spacecraft? Without a technologic species capable of building telescopes and spacecraft the bacteria and everything else on this planet will be extinct in another several billion years. The only way for life on earth to continue indefinitely is through technology. Telescopes and rockets don’t grow on trees, so to speak.

  10. DaveScot said:

    Telescopes and rockets don’t grow on trees, so to speak.

    Give evolution another 4 billion years, and we’ll see. =D

  11. bornagain77

    It seems to me that the present animal forms evolved to become adapted to the current 21% oxygen content, and that this percentage is not necessarily some kind of optimum. The atmospheric oxygen percentage has apparently gone through some large excursions during animal evolution, and this may be one of the major factors driving this evolution. Peter Ward and David Ehlert have written an interesting book on their new theory of how
    oxygen level has been the deciding factor driving the evolution of dinosaurs, birds and mammals. The title is “Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, And Earth’s Ancient Atmosphere”. Researchers have been able to estimate the varying percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere from the Cambrian to the present Tertiary period. This graph shows low values of around 10-15% in the Cambrian, followed by a rise to around 20% in the Silurian, corresponding to the first land faunas. Then the percentage dropped back to less than 15%, wiping out most of the first land forms. There was a tremendous rise in the Carboniferous up to a level of about 30% for several tens of millions of years, then a precipitous drop down to less than 15% after the Permian/Triassic extinction. Then there was a gradual rise up to the present levels. They interpret the huge evolutionary success of the dinosaurs starting in the Triassic period as being because they had evolved a much more efficient breathing system than mammals – the one used by birds today. This allowed the early dinosaurs to better survive the low oxygen conditions at and after the end-Permian extinction 250 million years ago.

  12. 12

    Magan, I don’t know who Peter Ward’s sources are, but His theory is problematic on several levels, As well the best sources I’ve found point to “steady states” for oxygen as the following can attest;

    Bistability of atmospheric oxygen and the Great Oxidation
    Colin Goldblatt1,2, Timothy M. Lenton1 and Andrew J. Watson1

    The history of the Earth has been characterized by a series of major transitions separated by long periods of relative stability1. The largest chemical transition was the ‘Great Oxidation’, approximately 2.4 billion years ago, when atmospheric oxygen concentrations rose from less than 10-5 of the present atmospheric level (PAL) to more than 0.01 PAL, and possibly2 to more than 0.1 PAL. This transition took place long after oxygenic photosynthesis is thought to have evolved3, 4, 5, but the causes of this delay and of the Great Oxidation itself remain uncertain6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Here we show that the origin of oxygenic photosynthesis gave rise to two simultaneously stable steady states for atmospheric oxygen. The existence of a low-oxygen (less than 10-5 PAL) steady state explains how a reducing atmosphere persisted for at least 300 million years after the onset of oxygenic photosynthesis. The Great Oxidation can be understood as a switch to the high-oxygen (more than 5 10-3 PAL) steady state. The bistability arises because ultraviolet shielding of the troposphere by ozone becomes effective once oxygen levels exceed 10-5 PAL, causing a nonlinear increase in the lifetime of atmospheric oxygen. Our results indicate that the existence of oxygenic photosynthesis is not a sufficient condition for either an oxygen-rich atmosphere or the presence of an ozone layer, which has implications for detecting life on other planets using atmospheric analysis12, 13.

    As well, for the author to throw the word evolution around as if it is some type of magic wand, with absolutely no explanation as to how this violation of the entropy of information occurred on the molecular level, is just wishful thinking and sheer speculation on your author’s part.

  13. 13

    Sorry Megan I may be wrong, you may have something with the variation of oxygen in the atmosphere as the following may seem to indicate from Dr. Hugh Ross web page.
    Rise of Oxygen Over the Past 205 Million Years

    An American team of geologists and paleontologists uncovered more evidence for the supernatural creation of animals by establishing dramatic changes in the oxygen content of Earth’s atmosphere over the past 205 million years. Their analysis of the abundance of carbon-13 in several marine sediment cores showed that oxygen in the atmosphere increased (with some dramatic oscillations) from 10% 205 million years ago to 17% 50 million years ago. For the past 40 million years the oxygen level has varied from 20-23%. The team demonstrated that the appearance of large-body-sized, high-metabolic-rate animals in the fossil record strongly correlated with the dramatic increase in atmospheric oxygen 50-40 million years ago. The team attributed this appearance to natural evolution. However, given that large-body-sized, high-metabolic-rate animals manifest the slowest (virtually zero) rates of natural evolution, and given that it would take a superintellect to realize that oxygen levels would stably remain above 20% after 40 million years, it seems much more reasonable to attribute the appearance of such creatures to a Creator.

    As well Megan, I’m still offended that you and other evolutionists would throw the word evolution around as if it is some type of magic wand that can get you by the issues raised by Behe, Dembski and others, without ever addressing the severe problems you have on the molecular level that they have pointed out.

  14. Of course, then you have to wonder why living is so darn imperative to begin with.

    Careful. Think thoughts like that, and you’ll end up reading Sartre.

    It’s worth pondering from a bunch of different directions, though. But I’d generally agree that if there’s a way to save life on this planet, humanity is it.

    I agree, although in my more pessimistic moments I suspect that this may only be because we have the capacity to decide to commit mass suicide. :-(

    Bob

  15. 15

    “Careful. Think thoughts like that, and you’ll end up reading Sartre.”

    Ha, not quite. It’s the sort of thing that heartens my theological leanings.

    I’m actually rather optimistic in general. I just find the point philosophically interesting, in a good way. :)

  16. Actually there are some parts of Sartre which I admire and one is free will and that we are the result of the choices we make through our free will.

    We can choose our battles and those we fight and those in which we acquiesce are what make us what we are.

  17. bornagain77

    I didn’t mean to give the impression that I am a Darwinist, but along with Michael Behe and other prominent ID advocates I accept the truth of the existence of an evolutionary process in which the last 600 million years or so appears to have transformed life from single celled eukaryotic forms to the present diversity including humans, other mammals, reptiles, etc. You might look at my current thread at the ARN ID News and Views forum. Part of this is the strong evidence in comparative physiology, genetics and fossils for some sort of common descent, even though this is not proof of course. I agree with Behe, Meyer, Dembski and others that the primary problem is the ability of random variation filtered by selection to originate the incredible integrated complexity of living organisms as they are known today, especially in the time periods allowed by the fossil evidence. However, I think modest, small, amounts of “complex specified information” can be accumulated by Darwinian processes. The problem for ID advocates is that the fossil record is continuing to be elaborated and shows more and more “intermediate” forms. Even though these are few and far between and are nothing like the predominance of slightly changed forms that would be expected from a Darwinistic process, they still show some form of incremental stepwise progression in which each stage is based on the previous. This seems to be very solidly established by fossil and genetic evidence.

    I think that a valid belief system needs to take all the data into account. I believe that even though evolution needs to be accepted as a fact, a key component of this process is the intervention of intelligence of some form. I agree with you about the nonreducibility of mind to brain processes, i.e. that human consciousness is somehow ultimately independent of the physical brain. There is a mountain of evidence for this. I believe there are many spiritual experiences that point to a spiritual metaphysical reality beyond physical matter and energy.

    So a valid theory of ID needs to encompass all of this and more. I don’t pretend to have such an all-encompassing theory, though I have a few ideas in that direction. These of course would be immediately and scoffingly rejected by Darwinists and other scientific materialists.

  18. Magnan

    they still show some form of incremental stepwise progression in which each stage is based on the previous

    Not really. The discontinuities in the fossil record are stark and unyielding. The number of exceptions proves the rule that species arise abruptly, remain essentially unchanged for millions of years, then just as abruptly become extinct.

    The evolution of the horse is probably the most often referenced exception. From the dog-size Eocene (60 mya) Eohippus with 4-toed forelimbs and 3-toed hindlimbs to the Miocene Merychippus with 3-toes fore and aft to the Pliocene (modern era) Equus with 1-toed feet.

    What they don’t mention in evolutionary biology stories of the horse is that monodactyl horses today rarely but occasionally give birth to polydactyl colts with feet nearly identical to their Oligocene hippus ancestors (Owen, R., Anatomy of Vertebrates, 1866, vol. 3, pg 795). The takehome lesson is that horses didn’t evolve anything new (losing toes is hardly the same as gaining toes) nor was anything lost. Not to mention that the entire sequence are all still horses and not a very compelling example of macroevolution. But that’s the best example there is for the so-called overwhelming evidence of gradual evolution. It’s underwhelming to me.

  19. DaveScot

    The discontinuities in the fossil record are stark and unyielding. The number of exceptions proves the rule that species arise abruptly, remain essentially unchanged for millions of years, then just as abruptly become extinct.

    I agree. My only point was that on the large scale of classes, genera and tens of millions of years there is a clear progression, where each new stage of a developmental line is an elaboration that very clearly is based on the previous. I think the progression from primitive jawless fish through amphibians to reptiles is one of the better examples:
    - Ostracoderms, beginning in early Cambrian, 510 Ma; Jawless, covered by a bony plate except for the tail region, cartilaginous notochord.
    -Placoderms, beginning in late Silurian, 400 Ma; Functional jaws but no teeth, armored over most of body, bony skeleton.
    -Bony fishes (Osteichthes), beginning in early Devonian, 390 Ma
    -Crossopterygian lobe-finned fishes, mid-Devonian, 380 Ma
    -Various forms physiologically intermediate between crossopterygians and early amphibians, mid to late-Devonian, 380-360 Ma
    - Very first amphibians, quite fish-like, such as Acanthostega and Ichthyostega, late Devonian, 370-360 Ma
    - Labyrinthodonts, larger amphibians with some ichthyostegid characteristics, late Devonian/early Mississippian 370-350 Ma
    - Anthracosaurs-early reptiles with some amphibian and some reptile characteristics; late Mississippian, 330-320 Ma
    - Cotylosaurs (primitive reptiles), early Pennsylvanian, 320-310 Ma

    I think that for ID to be credible it needs to accommodate these clear large-scale patterns in evolution. At least some of the leading figures in ID also believe this.

  20. magnan

    ID has absolutely no problem in accepting what you have said.
    You say that we can observe “evolution” in the fossil record, but this is not the gradualistic step-by-step evolution proposed by darwinists.
    I have no problem in accepting common descent (though I’m undecided now) but to claim that darwinism explains the evolution in the fossil record is not correct IMO.

    Thanks

  21. magnan

    I think that for ID to be credible it needs to accommodate these clear large-scale patterns in evolution. At least some of the leading figures in ID also believe this.

    I think you’ve got that backwards. For evolution by chance & necessity to be credible it needs to accomodate saltation which is evident in the indisputable testimony of the fossil record. Chance & necessity evolution demands a continuum of very small steps from one form to another. These small steps are missing from the fossil record. We should find a continuum of almost imperceptably small changes in successive species. What we actually find is the abrupt appearance of species fully defined that persist for an average of 10 million years virtually unchanged followed by extinction. Intelligent design accomodates saltation where no other mechanism can. If finely graded transitionals are missing then gradual evolution by chance & necessity is falsified. It was once widely believed that exploration of the fossil record was woefully incomplete and eventually a record matching the theory would be established. 150 years later no such record has been established. The theory failed the acid test of the fossil record.

    Phylogenesis is the evolution of a single cell into many diversified cell types, tissue types, organ types, and body types over billions of years. Ontogenesis is the evolution of a single cell into many diversified cell types, tissue types, organ types, and body types over days and weeks. There is no element of chance & necessity in ontogenesis – the evolution from a single cell to complex adult form is predetermined by a plan contained in the first cell. Phlyogeny mirrors ontegeny and it is my assertion that chance & necessity played no more role in phylogenesis than it does in ontogenesis. Both are predetermined self-terminating processes. The fossil record is in complete accord with a predetermined phylogeny which can proceed by leaps and bounds as life unfolds. Evolution by chance & necessity is not in accord with the fossil record as it must proceed in very small steps and can’t account for any of the leaps and bounds found in the indisputable testimony of the fossil record. The plea of an incomplete fossil record is no longer a credible excuse.

  22. bornagain77

    Concerning the atmospheric oxygen percentage issue, Ward’s book seems to based on some solid research evidence that has come out just recently. Not that the academic credentials of the originator are a guarantee of the truth of a hypothesis, but they certainly relate to credibility and plausibility. Peter Ward is a fairly prominent paleontologist and the author of a number of acclaimed books. He utilized the results of research by Robert Berner and his students at Yale, using a complicated computer model of carbon dioxide and oxygen levels over geological time called GEOCARBSULF. This model uses input values for the many variables that are known or suspected of controlling oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Ward mentions another computer model called COPSE which apparently shows the same pattern of peaks and dips, though he admits the actual output levels are somewhat different. Though it is certainly possible, it doesn’t seem too likely to me that Ward is “cherry picking” his data to fit his hypothesis.

  23. Magnan

    Suspected factors indeed. Freeman Dyson‘s credentials far exceed Robert Berners’ and here’s what he has to say about atmospheric models:

    Concerning the climate models, I know enough of the details to be sure that they are unreliable. They are full of fudge factors that are fitted to the existing climate, so the models more or less agree with the observed data. But there is no reason to believe that the same fudge factors would give the right behavior in a world with different chemistry, for example in a world with increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

    The bottom line is computer models of the atmosphere are unreliable. Period. End of story.

  24. DaveScot

    “I think you’ve got that backwards. For evolution by chance & necessity to be credible it needs to accomodate saltation which is evident in the indisputable testimony of the fossil record. Chance & necessity evolution demands a continuum of very small steps from one form to another. These small steps are missing from the fossil record.”

    I agree. I am with you in rejecting chance and necessity as a credible explanation. But any theory contending to explain the actual fossil record, comparative anatomy and comparative genetics needs to explain the large but still incremental steps that are clearly shown as in my example.

    “Phlyogeny mirrors ontegeny and it is my assertion that chance & necessity played no more role in phylogenesis than it does in ontogenesis. Both are predetermined self-terminating processes. The fossil record is in complete accord with a predetermined phylogeny which can proceed by leaps and bounds as life unfolds.”

    You have settled on one of several logically possible hypotheses involving intelligence. They all have their pros and cons. Predetermined phylogenesis means predetermined genetic development with time. I don’t think the fossil record is “in complete accord” with a predetermined phylogeny, mainly because genetic comparisons of living organisms between groups shown in the fossil record such as fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals show the addition of new genes coding for the new characters. I don’t know of cases where the new genetic information corresponding to new characters has been shown to have existed in earlier forms, only cases where apparently preexisting genes (like Hox genes) were apparently duplicated and modified for new functions or body plans. Your hypothesis would seem to require that early primitive animals like the first proto-vertebrates (modern representative Amphioxus) have a genome including the entire complement of fish, amphibian, reptile and mammalian genes. Either this, or some unknown form of stored genetic information not in the genes, from the beginning caused this tremendous elaboration of genes, transposons, etc. required to code for radically new forms. The point is that all of the later embodied genetic information had to have been contained in some form in the genome of primitive organisms, but I have seen no indication that such genic data has actually been found.

    It seems more reasonable to me that the major “saltations” you pointed out were directly caused by some form of intelligent intervention. But both your hypothesis and mine have to contend with the unfortunate facts of the fossil record showing a general progression in evolution from less developed to more sophisticated forms. It is as if the major interventions occurred to produce the class transitions I mentioned in the example. Whatever the intelligent source, the fossil data shows it deliberately based new innovations mainly on preexisting designs. This of course is very much like the human engineering design process, but unfortunately on the surface it is also what would be expected from a Darwinian process.

  25. DaveScot

    The bottom line is computer models of the atmosphere are unreliable. Period. End of story.

    I think you unreasonably completely dismiss Ward’s theory. We don’t really know if it may have some truth. There is certainly some intriguing evidence that goes along with it.

  26. magnan

    We’re so far from sequencing all the genomes in all the life on this planet it’s unreasonable to think we’ve discovered everything or even close to everything. Close to nothing is the actual case. We only understand a small fraction of what’s in the most scrutinized genome of them all – human.

    There’s no real reason to presume that genomes with the preprogrammed potential to diversify are still extant although one can hope. C-value enigmas abound especially in so-called living fossils. We need to sequence those and understand everything we’ve sequenced.

    One requirement for this front-loaded phylogeny hypothesis is a mechanism other than natural selection which can preserve genomic information over geologic timespans. Natural seleciton can only do that with information that’s expressed and thus has selection value. Presumably unexpressed information would be lost to the ravages of random mutation over large spans of time. In this regard there’s a recent experiment which hints at such a mechanism. I blogged about here. In nutshell, 1.5 million base pairs containing thousands of non-coding sequences highly conserved between mice and men were deleted from the mouse. The altered mice were bred. The researchers expected to see all kinds of problems and thus identify the biologic function of the conserved sequences in humans. Astoundingly the mice were perfectly healthy and indistinguishable from unaltered mice in every way the researchers thought to compare. What was conserving all that DNA for the 180 million years of independent random mutation that should have peppered mouse and human genomes differently if there’s no evident selection value for any of it?

    re Ward’s theory

    I trust my own experience in computer science and Freeman Dyson’s take on atmospheric models. You can throw in enough fudge factors to duplicate any current phenomenon. That doesn’t mean the model can predict the unknown future or reconstruct an unknown past. Look at the history of hurricane track prediction. The error bands on the coast are many hundreds of miles wide when they first spin up in the Atlantic and they throw every trick in the book at them including the known track of every previous hurricane in the last 100 years. Or look at CO2 models of global warming. They all predict that warming will be greater in the troposphere than at the surface and the fact of the matter is that the increase is the same or greater at the surface. Something on or near the surface is causing the heating – something like water vapor which absorbs 80% of the radiated energy in the first 30 feet of atmosphere above the surface or a change in surface albedo like soot (black carbon) making everything darker where it lands absorbing more energy at the surface. Either that or the absorptive model for CO2 is all wrong. In this case, since the energy absorptive properites and concentrations of CO2 are well established I’m betting the models are right and it isn’t CO2 but one or both the other factors that’s the main culprit. This is further backed up by most of the heating occurring in the high northern latitudes with permanent snow cover. Those regions are close enough to sources of soot (in the northern hemisphere) for it to travel and land on glaciers and arctic sea ice but too far away to make it to the high southern latitudes. There is little if any warming in the southern hemisphere. The antarctic is actually getting colder. Even further evidence is in the fact that the warming isn’t uniform around the globe. Manmade CO2 disperses evenly throughout the atmosphere while soot can only travel a few thousand kilometers from the source before it settles onto the surface. Adding insult to injury soot floats on melting snow & ice so any partial melting that occurs just concentrates it on the surface, adding one year’s soot accumulation to the previous year’s and so on and so on each year, making it darker and darker. The U.S. considers soot a pollutant and we’ve cleaned up our act. Europe doesn’t consider it a problem and use sooty diesel engines for a large percentage of their transportation needs. Poorer countries that still burn coal and wood for power and heating without cleaning their smokestacks contribute even more soot. Asia is the largest producer of black carbon particulates today and Europe isn’t far behind. In the rush to blame the U.S. for global warming since we’re the highest producer of CO2 (China is about to take over as #1 in CO2, by the way, and they’re exempt from Kyoto) the real culpable parties in all probability are not even being scolded.

    But I digress. Computer models are reliable only after they’ve proven themselves against real world data. If they can’t they’re just making unsubstianted guesses. There’s a common acronym about this: GIGO. It stands for “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the assumptions in the model are wrong, or the data, or both that’s “Garbage In” and the output follows.

  27. factician

    By definition, every form of life that is alive today (that is capable of reproduction) is the fittest form of life for that niche.

    You better call up the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service right away and tell them that there’s no such thing as an endangered species because anything alive and reproducing is by definition the fittest thing in that niche.

    Your next comment better have a little more thought put into it or your first comment here will also be your last.

  28. DaveScot

    “One requirement for this front-loaded phylogeny hypothesis is a mechanism other than natural selection which can preserve genomic information over geologic timespans. Natural seleciton can only do that with information that’s expressed and thus has selection value. Presumably unexpressed information would be lost to the ravages of random mutation over large spans of time.”

    “What was conserving all that DNA for the 180 million years of independent random mutation that should have peppered mouse and human genomes differently if there’s no evident selection value for any of it.”

    Good point. It occurs to me that this could be part of a mechanism that enables organisms over millions of generations to modify their own genomes to respond to environmental changes. Naturally, deleting it would not affect the immediate health of the animal – only the long-term ability of the species to respond to stress from the environment. This model relates to epigenetic theories of evolution (re. Mae-Wan Ho), where genetic variation is understood to not be random, and there is an environment to genome feedback. This would of course violate central dogma in genetics and MET. This would be one possible hypothesis to at least partially explain the actual evolutionary origin of extremely complex interacting biological systems. Such a pseudo-Lamarkian mechanism would have to contain a model of which genes and parts of genes code for specific characters, be able to sense specific environmental and physiological stresses, do the correlation between the two, and finally modify the corresponding genes.

    The problem with this idea is that it still does not admit the input of intelligence in the actual formation of these biological systems, just a mechanism that modifies the genome in a robotic mechanical way in response to stress. The essence of ID theory is the perception that an intelligence must have contributed to the evolutionary process. Also, evolutionists would contend that this environment to genome feedback system could itself have originated by a Darwinian process, i.e. the evolution of evolution. However, maybe it could still explain some complex interactive adaptations such as the giraffe as explicated by Lonnig, with the long neck and accompanying blood circulation and pressure, neck vertebrae, skull structure and numerous other adaptations all of which had to occur simultaneously. Another example is the dolphin biological sonar system, much more complex and also requiring multiple simultaneous elaborations of design.

    I think a feedback system as hypothesized above could account for the actual evolutionary process if it is supplemented by some sort of additional intelligent intervention that is responding to basic “intentionality” or desire on the part of organisms. Natural selection of random mutational variations would be an insignificant contributor to these sources of innovation in biological design.

  29. “One requirement for this front-loaded phylogeny hypothesis is a mechanism other than natural selection which can preserve genomic information over geologic timespans. Natural seleciton can only do that with information that’s expressed and thus has selection value. Presumably unexpressed information would be lost to the ravages of random mutation over large spans of time.”

    “What was conserving all that DNA for the 180 million years of independent random mutation that should have peppered mouse and human genomes differently if there’s no evident selection value for any of it?”

    Good point. It occurs to me that one explanation for this could be that this conserved non-coding DNA is actually part of a mechanism that enables the organism over many generations to modify its own genome in response to environmental stress. Naturally, deleting this would not affect the immediate health of the animal, just the long term ability of the species to adapt and elaborate its physiology and behavior in response to the environment. This relates to epigenetic theories of evolution (re. Mae-Wan Ho), and proposes that there is an environment to genome feedback, and variation is not random. The mechanism would have to be able to sense specific environmental and physiological stresses, have a model of which genes and parts of genes code for particular biological characters and how the genes interact phylogenetically, do the correlation between the two, and finally modify or duplicate the appropriate genes.

    The problem with this is that there would not be any real intelligence in the process, just a robotic mechanical tinkering with genes in response to physiologic stress. The essence of ID theory is the strong perception that intelligence must have been involved in the evolutionary process. However, such a system might be able to produce some complex interacting biological systems like the giraffe adaptations explicated by Lonnig, where adaptations in blood circulation, blood pressure, neck vertebrae, skull structure and many other characters all had to be elaborated simultaneously. Another “worst case for Darwinism” example would be the dolphin biological sonar system, which is even much more complicated. I think this sort of neo-Lamarkian mechanism could account for the actual evolutionary process in the fossil record if it is supplemented by an intelligent source of real innovation responding to basic “intention” or desire on the part of organisms. This would deal with the complex specified information/irreducible complexity problem, and at the same time account for the apparent whimsical, playful, artist-like quality of organisms. Darwinian selection of random variations would be an insignificant part of the total process.

    It occurrs to me that your hypothesis of genetic front-loading seems to require, in addition to high intelligence in the beginning to design and incorporate the originally implanted genomic data, the ability of that intelligence to accurately predict the vicissitudes of global tectonic, climatic and atmospheric changes over subsequent ages of geologic time. Also, there is the problem of the major asteroid or cometary impacts which caused at least two major extinctions. These events which redirected evolution would also have to have been predicted or predetermined by this intelligence. No problem for a near-omniscient intelligence, but it seems to me that something along the lines of what I suggested might be more parsimonious.

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