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January 29, 2013

Twenty-five Questions Not Solved by Conventional Evolutionary Theory

1. In all Bilaterian species individ­ual specimens are very similar to one another; they all have the same complex vital organs arranged in a virtually uniform manner. Some species of nema­todes and rotifers even exhibit eutely: each specimen consists of the identical number of cells arranged in precisely the same pattern. Such strict unifor­mity of entire phenotypes is not found in other multi­cel­ls (plants, Porifera and cnid­arians). In those phyla, plasticity reigns. How could the same mecha­nism, natural selection, possibly explain the emergence of both strict pheno­typic uniformity and wide­spread pheno­typic plasticity?

2. In cell colonies (plants, cnidarians, and Porifera) the most complex and highly organized tissues are those directly involved in sexual reproduc­tion. Natural selection ex­plains sex-organ complexity: if those organs had not functioned with exquisite precision the lineages would have perished. But Bilaterian complexity is different. In those animals vital organs located throughout the body perform func­tions not di­rectly involved in sexual repro­duction. How can the identical mechanism -- natural selection -- logically ac­count both for the existence of complex vital organs in ani­mals and their absence in cell colonies?

3. Among cnidarians, large organisms are found in sunny habitats; in the genus Cyanea some jellyfish grow to two meters in diameter. All jellyfish are comparatively simple organ­isms. However, among the later­ally symmetrical animals the combination of large size and exposure to sunny habi­tat is found only in the most transformed lineages, the terrestrial vertebrates. These animals are extremely complex. There seem to be no large, relatively simple animals (as simple, say, as annelids) living in sunny habitats. Why not?
4. Based on the fossil record the earliest Bilaterians all avoid­ed exposure to sunlight. Somatic cells were not directly exposed until about 400 mil­lion years after those ani­mals first appeared, and then only in lineages that produced animals with adaptive immune systems. In fact, most extant Bilaterians avoid expo­sing unprotected cells that divide. On the other hand, plants, Porif­era and most cnida­ria­ns do not avoid sun­light; many spend all their days bask­ing in it. What is the evolu­tion­ari­ly plausible expla­nation for this fundamental differ­ence in the life histo­ries and observed characteristics of the two groups of multicells?

5. Jellyfish fossils found in 2007 in Utah are estimated to be more than 500 million years old. According to University of Kansas investigators the ancient jellyfish were phenotypically very similar to present day jellyfish. It seems that, compared to Bilaterians, there has been little organismic transforma­tion in the cnidarians (and in the Porifera). What is the mechanistic expla­nation for such (what some might call) unpunct­uat­ed equilibrium? 

6. The theoretical problem of senescence, contrary to the opinion of some, has not been solved. Most plants, unlike all Bilaterians, do not exhibit programmed aging. An exception is found in certain bamboo species where all the individual plants live for a fixed number of years before they flower and reproduce. Then all the individual plants die. This is true aging -- the pro­grammed cessa­tion of mitosis following a fixed time period.

But programmed death dependent on cues from the environment which is exhibited by most plants (think of annual plants dying in the fall) is not aging; bring the geraniums inside before frost and they will survive to spring. Perhaps some annual plants do not survive indoors but with few exceptions plants do not undergo the temporal-sensitive slowdown in cell renewal that is the hallmark of aging in Bilaterians. Studies of Porifera and cnidarians indicate that they too do not age. 

All Bilaterians age and investigators have actually identified (in some species) genes "for" senescence.

How could the identical mechanism -- classic Darwinian selection -- possibly account for both the presence of such a fundamental character in all the Bilaterians and its absence in virtually all other multi­cells?

7. In his book Beyond Natural Selection (MIT Press, 1993) Robert Wesson characterized the hair on top of the human head as "ridicu­lous." In The Evolution of Consciousness (Simon & Schuster, 1991) Robert Ornstein suggests that the large human brain originated as a device to get rid of excess body heat. Unfortunately for his idea, Ornstein ignores Wesson's "ridiculous" hair; its insulating properties would moderate any heat-dissi­pation capacity the brain might possess. 
Nonetheless, Wesson and Ornstein identify problems that ought to intrigue all evolutionary theorists: why did our ancestors acquire massive brains when they did and why did they (apparently at or near the same time) get rid of all juvenile body hair except on top of the head?

Incidentally, Wesson is wrong to call anything in Nature "ridiculous." There are no absurd characters, only inadequate explanations for their existence.­­

8. The theory of evolution by natural selection would predict that polar bears' noses, like the rest of their visible exteriors, would be light in color, if not snow-white, then something close to it. But their noses are black, the worst possible color for camouflage. Although reports that adult bears try to cover their noses while stalking prey have not been confirmed the noses are espe­cially noticeable in juvenile bears whose heads are disproportionately ­­large; black noses render them more easily detected by preda­tors. 

What is the evolutionary explanation for this contra-Darwinian oddity? Did some other mechanism override natural selection's demand for life-preserving camouflage?

9. Mites, nematodes and other animals are the small­est multi­cells -- some are actually smaller than sin­gle-celled organ­isms. Although small nonanimal multi­cells, such as lichen and some other fungi, exist, they are much simpler than most large colonial multicells; they are not as complex, for example, as oak trees. How could the same mechanism, natural selec­tion, possibly explain the evolu­tion of small, complex organisms among Bilaterians, but only very simple organ­isms in small cell colonies­?

10. Bilateral symmetry originated long before any animals undertook sophisticated modes of locomo­tion such as swimming, running and flying, all of which would be difficult without lateral symmetry. Since Nature never anticipated future needs or benefits, what function did whole-body lateral symmetry serve, originally? Why was it selected? And why is such symmetry not found in other multicells­?

11. Experiments have determined that terrestrial mammals experi­ence LD50 (i.e., half the animals die within 30 days) when exposed to less than 1000r of radia­tion. Adult insects, in contrast, tolerate much higher levels of radia­tion, reaching LD50 only at exposure levels above 64,000r. Terrestrial mammals and the insects have shared the same macro-environ­ment for hundreds of millions of years: the Earth's surface, where they experienced identical levels of radiation exposure. Shouldn't a comp­rehen­sive theory of evolution address and explain this enormous variance in the observed lethality of radiation? ­

12. Although echinoderms can regenerate lost organs, salamanders lost tails and limbs and tadpoles, limbs and tails why didn't natural selection favor in all Bilaterians regeneration capability comparable to that found throughout the plant king­dom and in all cnidarians and Porifera?

13. Throughout Bilaterian phyla those lineages whose organisms were most exposed to sunlight have undergone the most transfor­mation. Those that remained shield­ed evolved little: annelids have evolved less than mammals, bivalves less than cephalopods. No such cor­relation is found in colonial phyla. Is it not unlikely that this widely observable pattern in animal lineages is a coincidence? What is the evolutionary explanation?

14. Why do so many animal species go to great lengths to shield embryos? After all, the young of plants and other cell colonies are not physically shield­ed. And in vertebrate lineages the greatest protection (internal gestation) is accorded the young of the most transformed animals, the mammals. How come?

15. Sharks, which came into exis­tence about 350 million years ago, have not had any descendants who were not sharks, or shark-like rays and skates. Their lineage is an evolutionary dead-end. During that same period descendants of bony ­fish were trans­formed into amphib­ians, rep­tiles, birds and mammals. Cancer occurs regularly in all the land verte­brates espe­cially those that have undergone massive recent transformation but it is rare in sharks. How does conventional theory explain these facts?   

16. In most modern Bilaterians external outer cover­ings, pigmentation, and the arrangement of non-dividing cells (muscles and nerve cells) reflect a pattern which seems consistent with a hypothesized "pur­pose" -- that of shielding mitos­ing cells from ultraviolet (and possibly cosmic) radiation. The protec­tion is heaviest in that part of the body facing toward the sun, and weakest in those parts that normally face away from it. What is the evolutionary expla­nation for these widely observed phe­nom­ena? Why are such protections not found in most other multicells?

17. Mammals spend one-third of their lives sleeping. In this state they are vulnerable to attack by predators. All other terrestrial vertebrates sleep for long periods. Shouldn't a comprehensive theory of evolution offer a convincing explanation for this widespread, dangerous, and therefore inherently puzzling behavior­?

18. The Bilaterians, have diversified more than plants, cnidarians and sponges. Yet according to conventional evolutionary theory all these multicells had (at least) equal access to speciating mechanisms. Shouldn’t a comprehensive theory of evolution provide a mechanistic explanation for this great fundamental variance?­

19. The bodies of many earthworms are covered with microscopically small eyes. Although many (most?) species of cave-dwelling fish lost their eyesight in a relatively short time these anne­lids have, it seems, kept theirs for hundreds of millions of years. Why would animals that spend their days underground in unlighted burrows and that routinely emerge only in the dark of night have retained any eyes at all let alone compound eyes? 

20. In many vertebrate lineages and in the cephalo­pods the animals disposed of external armor over evolu­tionary time. Surely there were no disarmament races in the distant past. What then is the explanation?
21. B­ased on their existence in all the normal cells of both in­sects and mammals, cellular oncogenes are at least 550 million years old. These genes can initiate cancer which can kill significant juvenile mammals and other vertebrates. It has also been observed in modern insect larvae­.

Doesn't a virulent, lethal, noncontagious (most significant) gene-initiated disease that kills juveniles in genetically distant phyla conflict with accepted evolutionary theory? Wouldn't Darwinian selection have neutral­ized -- certainly in 550 million years -- oncogenes' ability to kill juveniles routinely? But these ancient genes nevertheless do kill juveniles in many modern species. How is that explained?

22. Common sense would suggest, and investiga­tion (in any univer­sity engineering library) would confirm, that all human-controlled manufacturing systems include effective Qual­ity Control (QC) mechanisms and procedures at the level of the smallest functioning part of the finished product. QC ensures that components were manufactured correctly, that they conform to specifi­cations. More­over, QC is more stringent (more intensely applied, less toler­ant of deviation from specifications) in the manufac­ture of com­plex, precise­ly-construc­ted finished products consisting of many parts, e.g., high-performance aircraft, than it is when simpler end products such as crude pull-toys are con­structed.
Accepted evolutionary theory, which ought to explain the evolution of Nature's "manufacturing systems," does not include an evolution­­ari­ly effective QC mechanism (i.e., one capable of directly altering gene pools) oper­ating inside somatic cells. Yet Bilaterian gene pools mass-manufacture with aplomb the most precisely made and com­plex things known to exist in the universe, objects that ­consist of enormous numbers of individual cells. Is not the lack of a functioning QC mechanism located inside animal cells and capable of altering evolving gene pools a profound weakness of conventional theory?

23. There are many documented cases of cancer's "time bomb" phenomenon: humans succumbing decades after exposure to the initiator of the disease, in some cases as much as fifty years later. Comparable observations have been made in other mammal species. Doesn't this suggest that Nature devised extraordinarily effective devices to ensure survival of animals until the reproductive age? If selection explains the great delay in most cancer’s detectable onset wouldn't de­fenses against it have served also to minimize cancer-risking replication errors inside somatic cells during development?  In other words, doesn't the time bomb effect suggest that the QC mechanism (see Question 22) in animal evolution was lethal juvenile cancer, what I call cancer selection?

24. Things that, by definition, can disrupt successful development at the cellular level (muta­gens) can also initiate lethal cancer. Mutagens are carcinogens; carcinogens are mutagens. Events that cause cellular imper­fections, in other words, have the potential to kill the entire developing organism. Despite these well-known facts conventional theory assumes that lethal juvenile cancer played no significant role in evolution. Why?

25. In all the extant animal lineages unbroken chains of successful development have survived for hundreds of millions of years. In every ancestor of every living animal the actual developmental process was implemented with great fidelity to the development program. Throughout the evolution­ary lengthening of these unbroken chains of "perfect" development the animals' gene pools incorporated into the system with (it is self-evident) great success the cumulatively prodigious­ chang­es needed to transform, for example, gene pools capable of producing small pre-Cambrian submarinal worms to those that produce elephants. 

It has been established that whenever modifications of the end product are introduced into human-controlled mass manufacturing systems ine­fficiencies in production inevitably arise. These inefficiencies are at their measurably highest levels in the period immediately following the introduc­tion of the changes. The people involved correct these inefficiencies and productivity returns to the pre­vious levels. (See any industrial engineering textbook for an explanation of this phenomenon called the "learn­ing curve" or "manufacturing process function."­) 

The fact of evolution tells us that Nature, with the assistance of no intelligence whatsoever, coped with transformational changes of uncount­able numbers in already complex development programs and processes and it did it, according to conventional theory, without any "learning curve" mechanism operating at the level of individual somatic cells. How did it manage that?

Reasoned responses to all these questions are found in Cancer Selection: the new theory of evolution (Aculeus Press, 1992).

Comments and questions to the author ... are welcomed here.

At this site you will find links to additional material including my original Letters to the Journal of Theoretical Biology and  the 1992 Nature review of my book.

© 2013 by James Graham

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