Presented at NASA's First Astrobiology Science Conference, 3-5 Apr 2000, Ames Research Center CA
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Is Sustained Macroevolutionary Progress Possible? What'sNEW

Microevolutionary change has been demonstrated with closed-system biological experiments (Papadopoulos) and in computer models (Ray). Sustained macroevolutionary progress (SMP) that can lead from prokaryotes to people has not. In 1988, Ernst Mayr wrote, "Unfortunately, the genetics of microevolutionary processes has been unable to provide a full explanation of macroevolution." Today, a score of sequenced genomes later, W. Ford Doolittle observes, "Many eukaryotic genes ...seem to have come from nowhere."

Two recent insights point to a new possible explanation for the apparent SMP on Earth. The first insight is that microorganisms from space may have seeded life on Earth; the second is that horizontal gene transfer plays a major role in evolution. The new possible explanation is "cosmic ancestry," according to which microorganisms from space provide the new genes necessary for SMP on Earth. Thus, if the planet is an open biological system, perhaps what we call macroevolutionary progress is actually the incremental development of pre-existing, highly evolved cosmic life.

Cosmic ancestry accords well with several phenomena that have troubled standard Darwinism, including life's rapid start on Earth, punctuated equilibrium, convergent evolution, the ubiquity of certain master control genes, and the fact that many genes appear older, by sequence analysis, than they should be according to the fossil record.

But when pursued to its logical conclusion, the theory conflicts with most versions of the Big Bang and with customary Western thought, which hold that life cannot simply descend from prior life, highly evolved or not, ad infinitum. However, until SMP is demonstrated, this objection is overburdened.

If SMP is possible, closed-system experiments should be able to demonstrate it. Success in biological experiments would be decisive, but computer models should be able to get results faster. A positive result would give the existing paradigm much-needed confirmation. Of course, before results could be interpreted, a way to measure and verify SMP would have to be established — a worthy task in itself.

But if SMP is not possible, we would not have to abandon science altogether, as participants on both sides in the "darwinism versus creationism" debate suggest. Instead, in a role reversal, cosmology would have to accommodate a fundamental biological principle.

The issue is important. Let's conduct experiments to learn if SMP is possible.


+ 08 Feb 2023: The term "strong panspermia" has been dropped in favor of "cosmic ancestry," in which SMP depends on horizontal gene transfer and, ultimately, panspermia.
01 Jan 2020: By 2020 ...sustainable evolutionary progress ...will not have been demonstrated. (Our prediction of 18 years ago, May 2002, was upheld.)
25 Jan 2013: Many of our genes have no obvious relatives or evolutionary history. So where did they come from?
23 May 2012: Proving Darwin by Gregory Chaitin is a very welcome book.
13 Apr 2011: Nothing yet. That's what we observe from an experiment at Michigan State University.
11 Jan 2011: Anomalies in mainstream evolutionary theory have prompted a major amendment to darwinism.
2 Nov 2010: The software problem for the origin of life is not ignored, for once....
The Independent Evolution of Multicellularity, references the above argument, webpage posted 23 Jun 2010.
23 Dec 2008: Maybe heat-loving prokaryotes are not the oldest form of life.
26 Aug 2007: The first analysis of the genome of the sea anemone shows it to be nearly as complex as the human genome.
15 Apr 2006: The Evolution Prize will be launched hopefully at ALife X.
19 Oct 2005: Michael Behe testified in favor of Intelligent Design, promoting closed-system experiments.
24 Aug 2005: More than 80 new exons per genome per million years emerge among rodents. (And new questions need to be asked.)
29 Apr 2005: Darwin-at-Home.
16 Feb 2005: Fitness Landscapes.
12 Nov 2004: Was Darwin Wrong? — National Geographic.
26 Sep 2004: An article promoting Intelligent Design...
2003, February 4: The latest results from a closed-system biological experiment.
2002, December 31: No evolutionary progress in a closed system!
2001, November 21: The University of Oklahoma will probe for evolutionary progress in closed systems.
2001, October 9: Funds available for research.
2000, April 6: A report on the Astrobiology Conference.


+ Doolittle, W. Ford. Sci Am 2000 Feb; 282(2): 90.
+ Mayr, Ernst. Toward a new philosophy of biology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988. p 405.
+ Papadopoulos, D. et al. PNAS USA 1999; 96: 3807.
+ Ray, Thomas, "Artificial Life," 15 July 1996:
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