Evolution I: Can Life Arise from Chemicals?
Influenced by Newtonian inspired analyses popularized during the Enlightenment, contemporary psychologists tend to reduce consciousness to brain cell activity, which microbiologists in turn appraise in terms of chemicals, which chemists explain utilizing physics. And physicists, influenced by quantum theory, are more recently considering certain material interactions in terms of consciousness. With this apparent vicious circle in mind, Thompson examines the mechanistic approach that has deeply influenced modern science. Using his “tinker toy” argument and the incongruities involving DNA-gyrase activity, he suggests the need for a more subtle appreciation of nature.
TRANSCRIPT: Evolution I: Can Life Arise from Chemicals? Origins Magazine Seminar 6: San Diego - c. 1986 / (006)
Today I thought I might say something about these articles on evolution. There’re two articles on that subject, and one deals with the question of whether or not life could arise from chemicals. And the other one deals with the question of whether or not once you have some living organisms such as simple cells, or something like that, you can have an evolutionary process that produces everything else, including human beings and rhinoceroses and so forth.
So the basic point made in this first article is that in living organisms you have very complicated machinery, which is necessary for the functioning of the organisms. So what we are talking about here are the bodies of the living organisms. So the whole idea in modern biology is that life is just material – life is nothing but matter. This is what the biologists are thinking; so they’re taking their idea of matter from the physicists. Essentially what’s happened in the course of history is that the physicists started out by giving a description of matter that worked in certain areas quite effectively. Newton was the one who really started this process. So physics became the model for all science, and people got the idea that you’re really being scientific if you can explain things in terms of the laws of physics. So this became the basic goal in science. So the biologists who were trying to understand what life is, took this up. And, so for many years now, they’ve been trying to explain life in terms of physics.
Meanwhile there’ve been some developments in physics, which are perhaps a little bit disconcerting from the point of view of the biologist, because in recent times at least some physicists have come to the conclusion that in order to understand matter you have to bring consciousness into the picture. This is something that happened with the development of quantum mechanics. So I am not going to talk about that today, although I will mention briefly that such people like Schrodinger and Heisenberg, von Neumann, Wigner, and so on, have all said that in order to understand what happens in physics you need to bring in consciousness, which is something nonphysical. So there’s one biochemist named Morowitz, from Yale, who made the observation that the biologists are trying to reduce life down to matter, but then the physicists reduce matter down to consciousness. Actually you can go in a complete circle.
The psychologist supposedly studies consciousness – that’s their field of study. So they will say, “Consciousness can be understood in terms of brain cells and other entities that are studied by the biologists. We can understand consciousness in terms of life, mainly the brain and so forth.” And the biologist will say, “Well we can understand life in terms of chemistry.” Especially the biochemists will say this. Then the chemists will say, “Well we can understand chemistry in terms of physics.” And then the physicist will say, “In order to understand physics, we can understand that in terms of consciousness.” So you go in a complete circle. But it is true that only certain physicists think this way. Others will say that this is all nonsense. So you can find controversy in the field of physics.
But anyway, let us consider what the biologists are saying about life. They start with chemistry as their basic given structure of knowledge, then they want to explain life in terms of chemistry. So in chemistry you start out with atoms which have certain properties. The basic idea is that atoms can combine together to form molecules in various ways. The simplest analogy to explain the idea of chemistry is provided by tinker toys. So, you know, if you have a set of tinker toys, you have short little wooden rods and then you have little circular pieces with holes in them in various directions. You can stick the rods in the holes and build up a structure; so this is similar to putting together atoms to form molecules. In fact chemists have models of molecules which are very much like tinker toys, which you put together – different atoms with little pegs sticking out in different directions, and in this way you can assemble models of molecules.
So let's say you have a pile of tinker toy parts, and you start sticking them together at random, without any particular order; you just grab them at random and start sticking them together in whatever way they come out. If you do that you’ll see that you get certain characteristic shapes; you’ll find the pieces tend to come together at certain angles. And the reason for that is simple enough: the little round pieces have holes in them at certain angles, so naturally when you start sticking in pegs and pieces and so on at random, you’re going to get things that come together at those angles. So you’ll get certain characteristic shapes. If you do this you can say, “Well look, just by sticking things together at random, certain shapes are emerging. So if we did this for a million years, surely we would get a 20 foot high scale model of the Empire State Building.” Someone could make that argument, because by sticking together tinker toy pieces for ten minutes, we’ve gotten squares, and triangles. So we’ve certainly made some progress. If we kept this up for a million years certainly we would get a 20-foot scale model of the Empire State Building. Is this reasonable?
RLT: Why not? What’s wrong with it anyway?
Audience: First of all, the Empire State Building is a well thought out structure, where there is some planning. You can see it. It’s well ordered. With your random sampling thing it is not possible to bring in such order
RLT: Well as I pointed out, we will get order as soon as we start sticking them together, because after sticking together tinker toys for a while you’ll definitely see that you get a lot of right angles. And now that is an orderly thing, a right angle. After all, you have 360°, and one possibility is 90°; that is very specific and orderly. So you’re certainly getting order when you put them together. If you just do it for a longer time and you get more order, eventually you’ll get the Empire State Building.
Audience: Wouldn’t you have to prove that after so many random trials that there was the emergence of a set pattern of order that would be repeated? [Unclear]...
RLT: Well it’s just the matter of time. Given a long enough time… I mean we have seen a little bit of order is emerging in a short amount of time, so it stands to reason that more order will emerge in a longer time. And eventually we’ll get the Empire State Building. Yeah?
Audience: [unclear]... You may get some squares and right angles but you will not get the whole aggregate total of complexity. There is too much of complication – you can only progress to a certain level of complications.
RLT: Well there is reason for that though,.Could anyone say what the reason is?
RLT: Well the reason is that because of the structure of tinker toy parts you’re bound to get right angles, because they’re built that way in the first place. In other words, that design is built into tinker toy parts. But there’s nothing about tinker toy parts that specifies the Empire State Building. So it’s not surprising that you get simple right angles and squares and things like that by throwing together the tinker toy parts at random, because they are built that way; they’ll naturally produce such things. But now the design for the Empire State Building is something quite different. That's not built into tinker toy parts. So in order to get the Empire State Building by assembling tinker toy parts you’d have to bring in the design from outside; that is, it’s not built into the parts. Now you can imagine building components of some kind, which might specify an Empire State Building. Well, let's see how to do it. Well, you can imagine the following thing: You will have to build pretty complicated components, but let’s say we have some balls with holes of different shapes, we have rods of different shapes. And so a certain kind of rod can only go into a certain type of hole and so on. Well, if you set it up properly, you can arrange it so that the pieces can only go together to form a larger, complex structure. So if you kept trying to put the pieces together at random, and if they wouldn’t go you just kept on trying, and if they did come together you left them together; then with such a thing you could build up that complicated structure.
As a matter of fact, suppose you take a jigsaw puzzle – typical jigsaw puzzle in a box. And you just try to put together the pieces together at random. If they don’t go together, you just keep trying; and if they do go together, you leave them together. Well it’s just a matter of time before you put together the whole puzzle. And the reason you’ll put together the whole puzzle is because the shapes are such you can put them together only in one way. It was built that way in the first place. That way you can put together the whole jigsaw puzzle. The same thing with the tinker toy parts, since in fact that they don’t have shapes that are designed like that in the first place, so as to specify the Empire State Building. There’s no reason you’re going to get that, if you keep putting together the parts at random.
So we can apply the same thing to life. There’s a famous experiment done by a man named Stanley Miller, here at UCSD. He took ammonia, methane, water vapor – well I guess that's basic, yeah that's what he took – put it in a big flask, and put an electric spark through it for a certain number of hours. And he found that some brownish gunk accumulated. And if you analyze that chemically, you’ll find out that there are certain molecules that are called amino acids. Now it seems that proteins are made of amino acids. There are 20 different kinds of amino acids – they are certain types of chemicals – and proteins are made of amino acids, and proteins are very important molecules in the body. Everyone knows “You have to get enough protein." Immediately people started saying, “Well look, this shows that life could originate, just by throwing together molecules at random in a primordial soup.” The idea was, you start with the earth billions of years ago in a primordial state, in which supposedly there is no life. The whole thing supposedly condensed out of an earlier primordial gas cloud surrounding the sun, and of course the sun also supposedly condensed out of a gas cloud, and the gas cloud itself condensed out of the debris thrown out by the Big Bang, which started from nothing. So this is the idea on how things might have originated.
So you start with just atoms bouncing around at random with no order whatsoever, in this primordial soup. And you can imagine that there would have been storms with lightning, so lightning would have been flashing through this atmosphere full of different atoms, and amino acids might have formed. The argument was then that if initially you could form amino acids in this way, after a billion years or so you’ll get life. And from then on evolution will produce everything including ourselves. And it will all happen simply by chemistry; that's all you need. So that’s their argument, but it's a similar thing. Actually it’s not surprising that you should get amino acids if you put a spark through ammonia and methane and so on, because these are fairly simple molecules. They’re like the small groups of tinker toy parts that stick together to form certain characteristic shapes. It’s not surprising that you get those shapes, because the atoms are such that they naturally come together that way.
But when it comes to building a cell, like even a bacterium, that's a different story because in fact a bacterium is a very complicated structure. And most people don’t appreciate just how complicated a bacterium is. But actually a single bacterium, looked at as a mechanism – as a machine that is – is more complicated than anything human beings have ever built. So therefore it’s hard for us to even understand how complicated it is; because if you take the most sophisticated computer, let's say, that anyone has ever built, like one of these crazy supercomputers, or something like that, that’s nothing compared to a bacterium.
This article is meant to give some idea of how complicated cells are. We have this drawing here, which is borrowed from National Geographic magazine (don’t tell anybody), but actually this is a bunch more colorful representation; theirs was black and white. But these different shapes show some of the things you find in cells. So if you look at a cell, you find all these rather complicated structures within the cell. Now these are called organelles, and they have various names: there is the nucleus, nucleolus, Golgi apparatus, and so on. People have looked at these things through microscopes for many years, and the nature of a cell is that if you look at one these structures within the cell more closely, the more closely you look at it, the more complicated that you see that it is. It’s just as if you look at some machine from a distance, it may look like a simple little blob, but when you look at it more closely you see it has some complex structure. However if you look at man-made machines, you find that if you look closely enough, you no longer see complicated structure, you just see the material the machine is made out of.
For example, if you look at an automobile engine, you’ll see that there are certain parts that fit together in a rather intricate way, but then if you look under a microscope all you see that it is made of metal, you don’t see a finer layer of structure. Now if you look at one of these modern computers, like a personal computer, you can go down further and still see structure. If you look at one of the chips in the computer under a microscope, even at fairly high power you will still see intricate designs there, because they have miniaturized the circuits. But still if you look at it under an electron microscope, you will see that the whole thing looks very crude. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an electron microscope picture of a... one of these microcomputer chips, but you’ll see that they look like a sort of highway system, made of very crude sort of wavy slabs, that go around at different angles and so on. And then if you look at that even more closely, you just see the substance it is made out of, with no particular structure. So with a cell, at the level of looking at it with an electronic microscope, things are still very intricate. And in fact, they are intricate right down to the level of molecules. And you find very great intricacy. For example, in this cell (this is a just a typical sort of cell) here is something called a cell wall. Now right here this just looks like a slab of something. Well, we have a picture showing what cell walls are like in bacteria at least.
This is a diagram; it is supposed to show, in part, what they find. What this diagram represents: these different colored shapes represent different molecules. So essentially what we have here is what you may call a kind of cloth, with fibers going two different ways just like a cloth, but it’s made of molecules that are linked together. So the cell wall is made of layers of this, which wrap around. And this is not exactly ordinary cloth because it has the property that it can grow. And it turns out there’s a manufacturing process whereby molecules come together and build up this cloth in a systematic way; because the cell is, you can imagine, is wrapped in layers of this. But the cell keeps growing and dividing, so the cloth has to keep growing also. So this is the cell wall. Now we didn’t show it, but if you look at each of these little colored shapes that we have here, each one is a rather complicated structure made up of hundreds of atoms put together in a very specific way. So the cell needs this for protection. If you remove this from a bacterial cell it will die very quickly, because it won’t be able to survive. A bacterial cell without this wall is so fragile that if you just jar it slightly, it bursts open and it's destroyed. So that is just an example of what happens if you magnify the wall of the cell. So there are these very intricate structures, and there are molecules that perform very intricate operations. So we have an example of a DNA gyrase. I’ll just explain briefly what is going on here.
You’ve probably heard of DNA. Well, you can imagine what DNA is – imagine an extremely long chain, which is made of four different kinds of links. By putting the links together in different orders you can spell out a message. So imagine there are millions of links in this chain, spelling out a very long message. So in the bacterium, this chain is there, and it’s folded up in a very complicated way. The DNA in a single bacterium is, if you stretched it out, it would be several thousand times the length of the bacterium. So to fit it inside the bacterium you would have to fold it up. So it’s packed in with many, many folds. So when the bacterium reproduces, it has to make a copy of this DNA. So it makes an exact copy, and that’s quite an amazing process. But one part of this process is, well, to make the copy you go down the chain, and essentially you bring in links that match (as you go down the length of the chain). So now once you have done this, going down the full length of the chain, you have two chains that are copies of one another. But the thing is they’re folded up thousands of times, all together within this very tiny space.
Now you can imagine doing this, say, with string. Suppose you have two strings that run parallel to each other, and they are folded together, folded over and over again thousands of times. Now you have to separate them, separate them into two places so that they will be completely separate. But they start out completely together. Now you can imagine you might get some problems with tangles, if you tried to do that. So in fact in the bacterial cell there’s a tendency for the DNA to get tangled up. So in the cell there’s a way of eliminating tangles, and the method is this: If you ever try to unknot a tangle of a string, you may see that one string goes underneath another one. And you can see that, well if only if it went on top of the other one, you could undo the knot. But normally with string, unless you want to cut it, you have to keep twisting around to try to undo the tangle. So the bacterium has a system for cutting the DNA and then resplicing it. So if you have two pieces that go like this, it can cut the lower piece into two parts. Holding on to the ends it moves the upper piece through the cut, and then reassembles the two ends above the cut. So if you have a system like this it is easy to undo knots. So the cell has a system like that.
Now we made a drawing showing how it might work, showing this little robot here, if you could take a little look at this drawing. But it shows the steps you would have to go through to perform that operation. Now this is fictitious, by the way, this drawing. Nobody knows how it’s really done. But they do know that there’s a kind of enzyme – it’s a big protein molecule of some kind – that does this. But you can see just by thinking about it, what this thing has to do. It has to grab ahold of these two strands, like two ropes, and it has to cut through one of the strands, move the ends apart by holding on to them, because if it let go then it will lose the ends, and then it will be in real trouble, because how will it ever find the two ends and put the thing back together again? So you can’t let go of the ends, that would be fatal. So holding together the ends, you move them apart, then you have to have something that holds on to the other strand and moves it through the gap. And then you have to bring together the first two stands and connect them again. So all those operations have to be performed.
So I can give you a challenge: design a machine that will do that; just for a lark, let's say for ropes. So please design a machine that will undo knots in ropes by performing this operation. It has to cut the rope and move the ends around and so forth. What would it take to build a machine like that? Let's say that you have to build a machine out of springs, and gear wheels, and knives, and electric motors, and things like that. So if there’s anyone here with mechanical aptitude you can try to actually design and build such a kind of machine. What I propose is that it would be difficult to build it. It would be a fairly complicated little gizmo. So one molecule within the bacterium does this operation; and if it didn't do it the bacterium couldn't reproduce, because it couldn’t disentangle its DNA. So that means it couldn’t build another copy of itself. Now bacteria tend to be killed in the nature of things. So the life expectancy of one bacterium isn’t very long. So that means, if they can’t reproduce they will die out, very quickly. Bacteria managed to keep living because they keep dividing in half and keep producing more and more bacteria. So there are always plenty of them around. So the result is you can kill bacteria like anything, but unless you kill every last one, very quickly you will have more.
For example, some bacteria can divide once in 20 minutes. So if you start with one, then in 20 minutes you have two, and another 20 minutes you have 4, and then 8, 16, 32 and so forth. So the point is without this particular arrangement the bacteria couldn't reproduce. So how did the bacterium get that arrangement in the first place? Without it, it can’t even reproduce – it will die. So it needs that apparatus in order to even live. So you might say, “Well, it evolved.” But unless the bacteria can live and reproduce there is no question of evolution. Now you might say, “Well, an earlier kind of bacteria had some different arrangement so it didn’t need this arrangement. So it was living and then gradually it got this arrangement and eliminated the earlier arrangement that it had, whatever that was.” So you could argue like that. And you could say the earlier arrangement was simpler somehow than this arrangement. And before that there was a still earlier arrangement. And you keep on going back until you have just atoms moving together at random. So you can try and argue like that; however the point is, unless you can say at least something about what those arrangements are, that's all just a bluff. And even if you had some earlier arrangement, how would you get this machine that does this thing with the DNA?
So I have the following challenge: I challenged you to design such a machine. And I would say that a person who’s a bit intelligent about machinery and so on could build a machine like that. [skip in recording]... seems they have automated robots and such things that build cars. The car is going down the assembly line and there are no people there; these robots come out and rivet things together, and weld things, put parts together and so forth. And the robots are driven by computers, and the computers have programs, with individual little instructions, which are stored up as bits. So ultimately, you know, bits are 1s and 0s in the computer memory. So ultimately you just have a bunch of bits in a pattern in the computer memory. And the computer operates according to the instructions encoded in these 1s and 0s and directs the robot. And the result is you get a Toyota coming out at the end of the assembly line.
So suppose you just zapped the bits at random, you just make random changes in them. Will you get a better Toyota? Well you can say, “Well, by chance maybe you could.” So you can actually try it and see how rapidly you get improved automobiles. But what I am asking now it not just to improve the automobile, but to add a new kind of machine. Just to make it more realistic as far automobiles go, let us say that for automobiles in Northern countries, it would be convenient to have an automatic little snow shovel, snow plow device, so that when you push a button on the dashboard, the hood sort of opens up and this little snow plow thing come out. In this way in the morning when you find your driveway is completely covered with snow you just push the button and the plow comes out, and you drive out, you plow your driveway out. Very convenient. So of course present cars don’t have that. So by zapping the instructions to the computers that control these robots, could you get such a snow plow device to be added to the car? Oh, you can easily see how to design such a device: you need probably some hydraulic machines to move the plow, and of course you need the plow blade itself, and you need different joints with bearings so that they rotate easily, and you need some kind of motor to power the hydraulic devices, and then you need some electrical equipment, which goes to some switch on the dashboard. So I think an engineer can put together something like that, but now I am asking whether just by randomly changing the program for these robots that build the cars you can expect to get something like that. Well, yeah?
Question: Can’t they counter that we are talking about coal, steel and comparing it with atoms, molecules of organisms. But then we are talking about things that are breeding, there is the possibility of mutation, generations.
Answer: And that is why I used the Toyota example
Q: You cannot compare apples to oranges and something like that. It is not like the robots are breeding. And therefore they are created from…but I understand the example – you can take something on a grand scale like making robots to something small scale like a cell. But in my neophyte layman’s mind it just seems that when something that is soft and pliable gets small, something pliable and organic things, there is a possibility of mutations.
A: Yeah, but you have to understand first of all, the reason I used the robot example was that there you have a process that is going on. Now to be sure it’s going on because there is a big factory and so forth, and they’re maintaining the robots. But still that process is going on producing machines.The robots aren’t producing more robots to be sure, although you can imagine a robot that builds robots. If a robot can build cars, a robot can build robots too. In fact it can build the same kind of robot.
Q: A small baby robot.
A: No, the same size. It’s perfectly feasible. In fact I am sure they’re doing it already at IBM and places like that for computers, to have ... well I know they’re using computers to control the assembly line process for manufacturing computers. So why not use a computer to control the assembly line process for manufacturing that same computer.
And also, actually von Neumann back in the early 50s asked whether you could have a machine that could completely build copies of that same machine. And you can have that, it’s possible. Would be a very complicated machine by the way. He designed one and wrote a book about it. It takes an entire book to describe that machine--but it's a machine that makes a complete copy of itself. So when talking about such machines you can ask whether by zapping it at random you can get it to develop new functions. Like I gave the example of adding the snow plow to an automobile or something like that. But you can come up with all kinds of examples like that, of adding a new function to the machine.
Now organic things only look soft and pliable from a distance. That was another point we made later in the magazine, by the way. But if you look at them on the level of molecules, there’s nothing pliable about them. The molecules are more like tinker toys, as I was saying. They fit together in very rigid patterns. So on the level of molecules, it’s just like having parts that fit together only in certain ways, and these are like standardized parts. So the question is: can you get a new kind of machinery? Another example we mentioned here is: there’s a kind of bacterium called, the name is Escherichia coli. Well, coli refers to the colon, and in fact in your intestines you have millions of these bacteria. So in this room there are probably 100’s of millions of Escherichia coli right at this moment.
So anyway, they’re in there. So a bacterium, you’ve probably seen pictures, it’s a little cylindrical thing; and from the outside it looks very simple. But these cells have a rather amazing thing. It seems that they have what they call flagella. A flagella is like a long strand that sticks out from the bacterium. And it’s curved in a spiral, and they can spin the flagella. So if you spin a spiral thing in the water it acts like a propeller. So by spinning this flagellum the bacterium can propel itself through the water just like a submarine. So how does it spin it? Well, it has a little motor, it turns out. And they’ve looked at this with electron microscopes to try to figure out what it’s like. It seems like it looks very much like an electric motor. It has an axle and some kind of disk arrangement, and there are some fixed disks built into the wall of the cell. And the disks rotate and it can go forward or in reverse. So the bacteria can go forward, or it can back up if it wants. And these bacteria, by the way, exhibit a rather simple form of intelligence, because it seems they like certain chemicals, and they don’t like other kinds. So they’ll swim in the direction of greater concentration of chemicals that they like, and they swim away from chemicals that they don’t like. So they manage to steer and do all kinds of things. So anyway, there are some kinds of bacteria that don’t have this kind of little motor with the flagella. So let's start with a bacterium like that. Now let’s go to a bacterium that has a motor and a flagella – by evolution. Ok. It has to happen by accidents, mutations, which are accidental. So how do you go from a bacterium with no motor and flagella to one that has one? What are the steps? So I can give you that as a homework problem.
A: Yeah, well you have the DNA, which supposedly specifies all the different proteins and other molecules in the cell. So in a cell that has this motor, it produces appropriate proteins that assemble together to form the motor. Now that’s pretty amazing in its own right, that they assemble together, it is just like, it’s not only you have a motor, but the parts of the motor have to automatically assemble together to make the motor. That’s a good trick, but you can build things that would do that if you think about it. But just by accidents hitting the cell, how are you going to get that? That's the question. So someone may say, “Well, it could happen by a sequence of accidental steps like that.” So I’m open to that possibility. All I ask is that you specify what the steps are. If someone says, “Well now, let's not go into that; you should just believe that in fact it happened that way. Never mind what the steps are, you’re asking too much. But it’s certainly possible, so therefore you should believe it’s so. You should believe that it did come about just by a process of mutations, gradually producing the structure.”
The idea is that the mutations produce the structure, and then once the structure is functioning that gives the bacteria an advantage over the bacteria that don’t have that structure. And so then that becomes dominant, so that’s called natural selection. So the idea is, by mutation and natural selection it all comes about. That’s how the E. coli bacteria got their little motors, and that’s how other bacteria evolved to become human beings and so forth. “You should accept that’s how it happens,” someone might say. “After all, can you prove that it couldn’t possibly happen that way?” So I’m saying, all I ask is that please show in this simple case of the bacterium with little motors, how that could happen? Because if you stop to think about it, there are reasons for thinking that it couldn't happen. So what are the reasons?
Well, for a motor, first of all you have to have an axle that can turn. For example, if it’s square it can’t turn, so that wouldn't work. So, then the axle has to be connected to some kind of disk, and then there are these other disks. But surely not just any disk will do. If you just put together some kind of disk, it’s not going to be a motor. If you look at electric motors, you know, you have to have coils, with magnets that work in a certain way so as to pull the thing around in a circular motion when you put electricity through it. Of course they don’t know how these motors work – they think it’s maybe like a turbine, with molecules rushing through under pressure, hitting some kind of blades that spin around. So let's say it’s a turbine then. Well then you’ll have to have blades. So the blades have to be tilted in an angle. So if you just throw things together, how likely is it that you’re going to get blades that are tilted at the right angle? Plus you then have to have the molecules coming through at pressure, so you have to have some arrangement that will make the molecules go through. Even if you have the blades and the axle, but you don't have the molecules going through under the right pressure, the thing still isn’t going to work and so on. And then even if you have the complete motor, if it’s not connected to this flagellum, then what good is it for the bacterium? If it’s just spinning away and not connected to anything, all it does is waste energy. And actually you can argue that if a bacterium wastes energy, then it will lose out in competition with other bacteria.
Here is a calculation you can do: Let's say a bacterium wastes 1% of its energy uselessly, but you have another bacterium that doesn’t do that. So that means that the bacterium that doesn't waste its energy, let’s say can divide in 20 minutes. But the bacterium that wastes 1% of its energy can divide in 99% of 20 minutes. You may think, “Well that’s pretty close,” but then for two divisions it’s 99% of 40 minutes, and if you go up for about (what is it?) about 99 divisions, it comes to within 99% of... 99% becomes 20 minutes in its own right. So the point I’m making is eventually the bacterium that is a little less efficient will fall down behind by one division from the first bacterium. If it’s fallen behind by one division that means that there are half as many of them as the first bacteria. So if it’s even 1% less efficient after a certain length of time, there’re only half as many of the less efficient bacteria as the other more efficient ones, all other things being equal. And then after twice as long as that, there’s only one fourth as many. That means it loses out if it is 1% less efficient. So how then can a bacterium afford to build a motor that doesn’t work and wait around for flagellum to be added?
A: Yeah, in other words the bacteria can’t afford that because they’re all, say, growing in your intestines. In your intestines there are millions and millions of these bacteria, but if there’s one kind of bacteria, let’s say one bacterium, in your intestine has somehow or other built a motor and it’s almost perfect. The only trouble is it’s not linked up so as to actually enable it to swim, so all it does really is waste energy for that bacterium. Well it’s going to die out; all the others will out compete it and it won’t be there after a while. So there are reasons for thinking it can’t happen. And you may say, “Well these aren’t perfect reasons, maybe somehow it could happen, maybe there is something which you didn’t think about.”
A: Well, you can have failure
A: Well, you can say, you can have mutations that are failures and they fall by the wayside, but someone could argue, “Well, if you wait long enough then you’re bound to get one that's going to be successful.” But then the question is, “How long do you have to wait?” This is another basic point. Let’s say, and this is another basic point, you have to wait ten minutes to get a mutation that gives you one particular kind of part you need. Let’s say one out of ten does that. But then to get another part that you need, it’s another one out of ten. So that means you wait for ten minutes and you get one part but then you have to go through ten of those cycles to also get the other part, going one out of ten, so that’s one out of 100 you see. Now if you have a third part you also need, and it’s one out of ten for that too, then you have to go through a 1000 to get that. So the problems multiply – they don’t just add. So let’s say if you need a 100 parts and it’s a one out ten chance for getting each part, and 100 parts needed for the complete machine, then you multiply a 10x1x10... a 100 times and that’s how long you have to wait in order to get all 100 parts.
A: Well if it’s by chance for example...
A: It couldn’t possibly happen by chance – that you can definitely say, because, like this number 10100. That’s a very big number. A billion is 109, so a billion billion is 1018, and a billion billion billion is 1027. So keep going until you get up to 10100. That’s so long that it makes a billion years just like nothing. If a billion years is a long time, so think about billion billion years. Anyway the Big Bang people will say that the universe has only existed only for 20 billion years, so that’s nothing compared to a billion billion years. And if you’re talking about putting things together by chance that are of any degree of complexity then you have to have a billion billion billion billion billion years or something. In fact, you can do ridiculous calculations such as the following:
You can say, “Suppose you take the entire volume of the solar system and you divide it up into little cubes and each cube is as big as the hydrogen atom; and in each cube, a billion times a second, you try to throw together a certain complicated machine by chance. And you do this for a billion billion years.” Well, if the chances are less than 10100, you’re still not going to get one. So you can do calculations like that. So chance is completely out.
A: Well, they’ll say it doesn’t happen just by chance. You go through a sequence of intermediate forms and each step producing a new form is fairly probable. This is what they’ll say. So you go by one small step and that is fairly probable; and once you got that it’s better for the organism, so that becomes established; and then you make the next small step and that’s fairly probable and then that becomes established; and you just go by small steps that are fairly probable: That’s how the they would argue it. But then the question comes, “What are the steps?” Well, the problem with complicated machines, and even fairly simple machines, is at each step the machine has to work – it’s going to be selected by the organism. So can you build a machine up, going step by step each starting from the scratch, and at each step the thing works? Well, no one has shown how to do that with machines. And you can say, “Well we just just haven’t thought of how to do it yet; surely it’s possible.” Or people will say, “Well I know you can’t do that with manmade type machines like wrist watches and automobile engines and computers and radios and so on, but it can happen with biological machines because they’re different. Okay, but how are they different and can you show that? Because as I was saying, there are reasons for saying that can’t happen. The reason very simply is that all parts, in order to work in a complicated way, have to come together in a specific fashion; and one part will have to relate in a specific way with many other parts. That means in a machine if you change one part you also have to change many other parts in order for the whole thing to keep working. Just like in a wrist watch, if I say I want to change one gear wheel then I have to change a lot of other gear wheels and so on. So that’s the reason for thinking that you can’t do that with machines.
But if someone says, “Well biological machines are different, so it can happen with them,” then how can it happen, what are the steps? One can argue like that. So that’s some basic point concerning evolution. Now that’s all negative however. In other words, one is just criticizing the theory that it all comes about by molecules coming together by chance. So then what do we say?
Well of course, our proposal is that there’s an intelligence behind the design of these machines. Our point would be that just as manmade machines are built using intelligence in which somebody thinks out how to build a machine and they build it and it works. Similarly these biological machines were built by higher intelligence. But that intelligence had to be something that existed before there were physical organisms, that is, organisms with bodies made out of matter; because we’re saying there had to be intelligence to build organisms in the first place. So that means some non-material intelligence has to be brought in. Now someone can also argue, by the way, that you can’t say that this intelligence would have to be infinite and all-knowing or something like that. All you need is a non-material intelligence that has, you know, maybe as good as human intelligence or something like that; you don’t need to bring in God, just some non-material entity that’s fairly smart. That’s all you need, someone could say.
In fact there’s an English philosopher named Hume, who argued that amongst other things... he was very fond in putting forward atheistic arguments. So one was that “If you say that for the design of organism you need intelligence, then surely you don’t need an infinite all powerful intelligence. Just a moderate intelligence will do.” So one can argue like that, but still the point is you need some intelligence which existed before you had embodied entities; so that’s a step. So we would suggest then, that in order to understand what is really going on with life, you have to go to some kind of nonphysical intelligence. And so that means you have to look in a direction away from just matter, but in the direction of something more subtle. So that’s a suggestion. Of course we would say also that in order to understand God, just looking at material arrangements is not enough; and of course that is stated in the Bhagavad-gita also, that after many births and deaths, a jnani, that is, a person who is trying to just use the manipulation of the mind to understand everything, will eventually come to the point of surrendering to Krsna and then he will obtain actual knowledge of God.
The point is that even if you manipulate your mind in a very intelligent way, you’ll never have sure knowledge of God. But you can get some idea that maybe there’s such a thing as God, and the point then made in the Bhagavad-gita is that a jnani, after doing this for million of years through many births and deaths, because you accumulate intuitive experience from lifetime after lifetime, even if you don’t remember your previous lives as involved here. So after many millions of years of trying to figure it all out using the mind, eventually he will realize that the only thing to do is to surrender to God; and then you can get knowledge from God. In other words, by the power of our minds we don’t, we can’t actually figure it all out. But God can reveal Himself to us if He wants, because He has all power and Krsna says that He will enlighten us and reveal Himself to us if we cooperate with Him. All He asks is a little cooperation. So Krsna says, “As they surrender to Me I reward them accordingly”.
So that’s a higher principle for obtaining knowledge about ultimate causes of things. But there’s a tendency in the conditioned living entity for the living entity to try and figure it out using his own power, and so people speculate about how life might have come about. And at the present time in our Western civilization people have developed physics and chemistry and so on, and so they’re thinking maybe we can understand life in terms of physics and chemistry. And this has become a whole doctrine, which of course is a very convenient doctrine, because it enables you to eliminate God from the picture; and then there’s the whole psychology of why people want to do that. But anyway, so well, I should certainly stop there – it’s 6:26 already!
Q: [unclear]... My question is are they saying the more advanced type of bacterium has evolved from the other types?
A: Yeah, everything is evolved and you start with nothing.
Q: And my second point, are we saying there is no such thing as mutations?
A: There are mutations. What we’re saying is that they’re not going to create higher order. Certainly there are mutations and you can demonstrate that. Normally they produce various kinds of defects. For example they’ve been mutating fruit flies for years now. You can produce mutant fruit flies with all kinds of different strange things like shriveled wings, bulbous eyes, or no eyes, and so on; but they have not produced a single strain of fruit flies by mutation that can survive in the wild. In other words, if you take some of your mutant fruit flies and say, “Well here at last I think we have gotten some that are an improvement over regular fruit flies. Now we have got better fruit fly by mutation.” Because fruit flies reproduce very fast and people grow them in big bottles, feeding them with rotten bananas; and then they expose them to radiation which produces mutations, and they’ve been doing this for many years now.
The whole science of genetics practically was based on the study of the fruit fly and the mutations, because it also turns out that the fruit fly has very big chromosomes in its salivary glands, so you can study the chromosomes and so on. So anyway, if you take some of your mutant fruit flies you may say, “Well now we have got a fruit fly that is probably better,” so it’s easy to test that. You just release this kind into a cage with normal fruit flies and let them reproduce and see what happens. If this new kind of fruit fly is really better then after a few generations you should find this kind of fruit fly in the cage and not the other kind, or at least it should be holding on its own with the other kind. But that doesn’t happen. They just die out and the wild kind are the kind you have in your cage after couple of generations of fruit flies. So they haven’t produced an improvement – mutations tend to weaken the organism.
Q: Are they natural mutations or man-made mutations?
A: Well in one sense they’re all natural, because . . .
Q: You know what I am saying . . .
A: Yeah well, it happens in nature. They used to be called sports of nature, or freaks--that’s what they used to call mutants. And it happens, typically you just get some monstrous thing or else it can be very subtle, just a slight change.