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Thread: Evolution Predictable Everywhere in the Universe, Scientist Says

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    Evolution Predictable Everywhere in the Universe, Scientist Says

    Evolution Predictable Everywhere in the Universe, Scientist Says

    By Ker Than
    LiveScience Staff Writer
    posted: 14 March 2006
    07:43 am ET

    If the history of life on Earth could be rewound and replayed, many of the same innovations would reappear, although at different times and in slightly different forms.
    This is the conclusion of Geerat Vermeij, a paleontologist at the University of California, Davis.

    Vermeij's views imply that evolution is in some ways predictable and that life on other planets might not be so alien after all.

    "Some traits are so advantageous under so many circumstances, or arise so relatively easily by virtue of self-organization, that you're likely to see the same things again and again," Vermeij told LiveScience.

    Among the innovations that evolution might find irresistible: photosynthesis, plant seeds, mineralized bones, intelligence and language.

    Videotape of life

    Vermeij's views contrast with those of the late Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould, who famously argued that if the "videotape of life" could be rewound and played again, vastly different life forms would evolve. Gould believed that chance, or "contingency," plays a big role in the history of life. The extinction of dinosaurs and the rise of mammals on Earth, for example, resulted from a chance asteroid impact 65 million years ago.

    A model of double helix structure of DNA with its base pairs that link in myriad ways to create the various blueprints for life as we know it.

    Image courtesy In a study published last month in the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vermeij reviewed 23 evolutionary innovations traditionally considered to be unique in the history of life. These included things like genetic code, sex, bird feathers, turtle shells and human language.

    Vermeij also reviewed another 55 innovations that evolved more than once in the history of life among unrelated species. Scientists call such instances of repeat innovations "convergent evolution." Some of the cases of convergent evolution that Vermeij examined were multicellularity, eyes, ears, and venom injection.

    Vermeij concluded that most of the unique innovations—with the exception of human language—are ancient, more than half a billion years old. Many of the repeat innovations, in contrast, appeared much later in the history of life.

    A false historical perspective

    One possible explanation for these results is that something limited the amount of convergent evolution that could occur during the early stages of life. If this were the case, then traits developing during that time would truly be unique and might not appear again if conditions were even slightly different.

    However, Vermeij thinks this option is unlikely, because it would mean that "the world has changed in some peculiar way" since ancient times.

    The more probable explanation, he thinks, is that many of life's "unique" developments might just appear so because other species that also evolved those traits have died out and their remains were not fossilized.

    Another possibility is that many innovations considered unique might just be the result of intense natural selection. For example, when the genetic code first appeared among primitive organisms, it offered such a competitive advantage that if other variations of the genetic code did evolve later, they would not have been able to spread.

    Not so alien after all

    Of course, life on Earth can't be played out again, but scientists might one day find life on Mars, or on moons with liquid water like Europa, or on some distant Earth-like planet.

    If Gould was right, then life on these other worlds could be so alien that humans might not even recognize it if they did come across it. But if Vermeij is correct, then these alien life forms might be familiar to us because their developments were shaped by physical and evolutionary laws that apply everywhere in the universe.

    "Alien life forms will look different but they will have many of the same basic traits and performance levels and abilities," Vermeij said.
    Tolerance is a proof of distrust in one's own ideals. Friedrich Nietzsche

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    Evolution predictable everywhere in the universe

    This argument assumes, without proof, the exobiologists' primary article of faith: that, given the nercessary physical and chemical conditions, life will inevitably arise. THERE IS NOT SHRED OF EVIDENCE FOR THIS. This is a statement of FAITH, not fact. Let's not confuse the two. Exobiology is the only branch of science, the subject matter of which is not known to exist. If extraterrestrial life exists, it is not at all necessary for it to be intelligent. The dinosaurs,which dominated the terrestrial fauna for 190 million years, had only as much intelligence as was needed to survive. Given that the predatory dinosaurs were specialized killing machines and that their prey were adapted for speed and agility, neither needed more than an absolute minimum of intelligence. It was only relatively small unspecialized organisms, lacking armor, fangs, claws, speed, and exceptional agility, such as the mammals, especially the primates, which needed intelligence to give them a survival edge. There is no reason why circumstances which place a premium upon intelligence for survival need ever arise. Only a foretunate fortuitous combination of events which required the primates to descend from the trees onto the savannah put a premium upon intelligence. Still, until the dinosaurs became exitinct, and after them, the giant mammals of the early Cenozoic, intelligence was not enough to enable the primates to maintain but a bare existence, until an ecological niche opened for them., which need never haver happened . If it hadn't, we wouldn't be here discussing it. Intelligent life is a delicate, fragile thing. It may not survive and it may never become dominant. Photosynthesis arose about 2.2 billion years ago at the beginning of the Proterozoic Eon. Prior thereto, chemoautotrophs dominated the marine fauna. No one knows how or why photosynthesis arose. There is no evidence that this event was inevitable, the faith of exobiologists to the contrary notwithstanding. It is just as plausible that the Earth might still have oceans populated by chemoautotrophic microorganisms dependent upon ferrous iron as an oxygen acceptor, as they had throughout over two billion years of Archean time. It is fortunate for us that photosynthesis ultimately arose, no one knows how or why, because, otherwise, there could have been no higher organisms, but there is absolutely NO EVIDENCE that this event was inevitable. That's another of the exobiologists' articles of FAITH. The course of evolution, IF ANY on other inhabited planets, IF ANY, is NOT PREDICTABLE ! One can only speculate, as the quasi-religious exobiologists do. There is nothing scientific about their speculations and certainly nothing scientific about their dogmas.

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