In writing this site, I assume no natural authority or inherent credibility. Instead, I closely engage those texts and authors who have earned appropriate levels of authority and credibility within their chosen fields, and will avoid making unsupported assertions.
The two works central to this study include Essential Cell Biology (Fifth Edition, 2019) by Alberts et al., and Evolution (Third Edition, 2013) by Douglas Futuyma. Additional works that I will draw upon include:
· iGenetics (Third Edition, 2013) Peter Russell
· The Tangled Tree (2018) David Quammen
· Lonely Planets (2003) David Grinspoon
· Darwin’s Black Box (1996) Michael Behe
· Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1985) Michael Denton
· The Blind Watchmaker (1986) Richard Dawkins
· Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002) Stephan J. Gould
· Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995) Daniel Dennett
· Why Evolution is True (2009) Jerry Coyne
· The Future of Origin of Life Research: Bridging Decades-Old Divisions (2020)
Most popular science books attempt to disseminate scientific understanding to a broader public. This site intends to reverse the normal flow, and instead targets the scientific community. As a non-scientist of the life sciences, my intent is to provide a meaningful response to various scientific works, and pose critical questions concerning three essential mysteries: the origin of life, the source of evolution, and the routine functions within a living cell. In doing so, I propose for consideration a new scientific target for research and analysis: what I call the Vicarian Domain.
The genesis of this site dates from the mid-90’s when I attempted to understand how complex biological structures evolved. While I consider evolution rationally certain, in that current forms of life have descended from previous ones that differ in minor or profound ways, I could not be convinced that Neo-Darwinist theory provided a complete explanation. After reading over 40 books on the subject, thinking and writing about it, and corresponding with several scientists, I could not discern a reasonable solution. That led me to look elsewhere, specifically within a living cell.
In proceeding, I assume that everything that takes place within a living cell does so within the natural world, and that humans are capable, in principle, of someday providing detailed and accepted explanations for these processes. Even so, I maintain the basic humility that accepts the possibility that these explanations may ultimately reside beyond human comprehension.
The range of human understanding may be potentially limited. It’s possible that we don’t perceive and conceptualize everything that actually exists in the universe. We think we know everything there is to know, or at the very least, we think we are capable of knowing everything there is to know. But this may not be the case.
To understand how this might be so, consider the common guinea pig, and how such a creature perceives and conceptualizes the world. They see, smell, and hear the same things we do, in a given instance, yet process the sense data in an entirely different and limited way. Given the limitations of guinea pigs, it would be unreasonable to expect one ever to comprehend Milton, or understand the game of baseball.
There’s no reason to believe that humans have reached the limit of biological intelligence. It’s possible—if not likely—that a greatly superior mind to humans, say one as advanced as a human’s is over a guinea pig, might exist elsewhere, or come to exist. Such a mind might have the same relationship to humans that humans have to guinea pigs. It’s impossible to know (although science fiction imagines) what such an intelligence might comprehend. I call this the Guinea Pig Conundrum.
The possibility of radical human ignorance doesn’t open the door to religion, any more than it suggests that humans are gods to guinea pigs. If an expanded world exists, one that includes greater beings that remain currently unknown, it can be certain that they will be part of nature, and potentially discoverable by humans.
Another possibility exists that would render this entire argument moot: the possibility that biology (life), like physics and chemistry, does not require any special explanation. It just is.
I don’t consider the existence of gravity or covalent bonds as mysteries. Or any of the other physical and chemical properties of the universe. For anything to exist (and apparently existence exists) it comes as no surprise that there are rules, laws and/or repeatable circumstances that can be studied and described by humans. So much so that we can design, construct, and fly a rocket ship to the moon. It’s possible that biological life resides within the same class, and defies explanation because there isn’t one. Any more than there is an explanation for the existence of gravity.
Going forward, I assume this is incorrect, and that biological life does indeed require special explanation, and that such explanation is in principle available to inquiring humans.
Setting aside the Guinea Pig Conundrum (embracing it might lead to the cessation of scientific inquiry), we move forward and make every attempt to understand biological complexities, regardless of how daunting the task may appear.
And yet there are some who would suggest that there is nothing essentially new to discover:
…I want to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence.
Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker
Dawkins wants to leave no doubt:
…our own existence once presented the greatest of all mysteries, but that it is a mystery no longer because it is solved. Darwin and Wallace solved it, though we shall continue to add footnotes to their solution for a while yet….
Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker
While Gould doesn’t agree with Dawkins on everything, he echoes the same sentiment, one that insists that we have the answer currently in hand:
And whatever the excitement and pleasure of new discoveries made every year by biologists, no one will ever again experience the ultimate intellectual high of reconstructing all nature with the passkey of evolution—a privilege accorded to Charles Darwin, and now closed to us.
Stephen J. Gould, Full House
Most striking of all is Michael Behe’s assertion that we know everything fundamental about intra-cellular processes, despite his detailed and passionate criticism:
The last remaining black box was the cell, which was opened to reveal molecules – the bedrock of nature. Lower we cannot go. Moreover, the work that has already been done on enzymes, other proteins, and nucleic acids has illuminated the principals at work at the ground level of life. Many details remain to be filled in, and some surprises undoubtedly remain. But unlike earlier scientists, who looked at a fish or a heart or a cell and wondered what it was and what made it work, modern scientists are satisfied that the actions of proteins and other molecules are sufficient explanations for the basis of life.
Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box
The purpose of this site is to demonstrate how wrong this happens to be (in part using Behe’s own words) and that major discoveries must yet be made to provide satisfying explanations for evolution and what takes place within a living cell.
The biological authorities state that, “Living creatures are merely chemical systems.” (Essential Cell Biology) This summarizes the scientific notion that I intend to refute.
Denton strikes closer to the spirit of this site when he writes:
We now know not only of the existence of a break between the living and non-living world, but also that it represents the most dramatic and fundamental of all the discontinuities of nature.
Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis