(by Nicolas Lecot, excerpt from the META SCIENCES website)
This short text is the summary of a simple personal and nonexhaustive study of the concepts surrounding evolution. I willingly admit that I have integrated Ummite thought within my ideology because its principles seem intriguing, and this in spite of the slightly "mystical" aura surrounding it. I am not a scientist specializing in biology, physics or genetics, but I have an active brain and neurons which do not prevent me from learning. This " personal reflection " is but a pseudo-neophyte's approach.
Species of flora and fauna appear, evolve and disappear over a more or less long period of time. These three stages of the life were always suject to controversy; principles, laws and schools tried to standardise and understand this complex mechanism, without managing to reach A Law. However, one man and his theory prevailed in this organised chaos: Darwin. Before plunging into a rigorous analysis of what this great man has brought to posterity, let us simply look around us. And more particularly, let us examine the third stage: extinction.
Without calling immediately into question what has led species to disappear, it is easy to see the detrimental effect man has has on all the species known as "inferior". For it is indeed an artificial selection, known, quantifiable and very interesting to think about, that the Human Accident disturbs our planet more than we can see. If the great stages of NATURAL evolution are "known", the reasons and the causes are not always as clear. On the other hand, our Human Accident with its outwardly visible manifestations is easier to spot. But let us not be distracted by these concerns. Therefore we will leave aside the reasons these species became extinct; it is a political debate and not a scientific one.
The majority of species evolve in a fragile medium because it is very specific, and any change in the environment is fatal. The characteristics of a species are directly related to the specificity of its habitat. Every disturbance in the biotope blocks or catalyses the processes of evolution. The list of negative human effects on our own biotope is sadly long. Extension of agricultural areas, urbanisation, draining of wetlands, deforestation, ground, air and water pollution, excessive hunting for reasons other than food (aphrodisiac effect of a particular organs of a species, sport, collection, export), the artificial introduction of species which become predators or ecological competitors. We have thought that within an interrelated animal, vegetable and mineral chain, a species plays a particular role, carries out quite a precise function with other species be they vegetable, animal or mineral. Also, any disappearance breaks this fragile balance and the moment a weakness appears in an ecosystem, it suffers irreparable damage. One of the great lessons to be learnt from these unfortunate incidents is that a specific phenomenon, however negligible it may be, influences the biotope and generates a chain reaction of extinction. We will not speak here about the possible positive effect due to man's harmful interventions because to our knowledge, there do not come into play for the hundreds of species threatened today. Critics could easily argue that man is a species resulting from evolution, and that as his predatory and dominant role is a consequence of natural selection. But it is not completely without significance to note that in 99% of the cases, all the species, except man, kill or influence the biotope out of need and not out of covetousness, comfort or sport. To then say that humanity is not a natural phenomenon is a large gap we will not cross, or not yet.
Darwin's entire theory rests on a certain number of postulates or hypotheses of which four are the most important:
- the world is not immutable. Species are always changing. New species are born, while others die out.
- evolutionary processes are gradual: there is no brutal transformation, or evolutionary "jump"
- all the organisms that are similar, are related: they have a common ancestor. All living organisms have a common ancestor. Life on Earth has a single origin.
- man shares the same ancestor.
Evolution is not the product of chance. It is the result of selection. It takes place in two steps: the first stage is the appearance of an immense variety of species (Darwin could not account for this variety since, at that time, genetics did not yet exist); the second is the selection itself, the struggle for survival.
When Darwin worked out his theory, genetics and heredity was not what it is today. Even if, by the end of the 19th century, a majority of biologists subscribed to these ideas of evolution, no explanation could be given for the mechanism of such a transformation. It was necessary to wait until the beginning of the 20th, and the discovery of mutations, to connect what the darwinists called " variation " with genetic mutation: from which a synthetic theory of evolution arose.
Evolution is constituted by changes whose two principal factors are genetic mutation due to chance (or to something else), and modifications in the frequency of various versions of a gene (or allele). These genes encode the structure, the operation and the development of the organisms: to modify their frequency of variation, simply isolate a population (by a geographical barrier or the occupation of a new environment). As soon as inter-fertilization was no longer possible, there would be speciation.
Genetics of populations plays a fundamental role in speciation. Initially, because evolution is no longer about isolated individuals, but of a group of individuals of the same species, with a particular structure and distribution. Then, the concept of species would be based more on sterility of the fertilizations than on morphology.
We shall not try to disprove this theory, far from it, but it useful to show that random chance and need are not the only two motivating factors in evolution.
A specific case: man
What could be easier than approaching evolution using man as a case study.. The most important stage in man's evolution is the separation of the phylum common to hominids and to panids into two distinct groups. But, beyond morphological appearances, the question is whether this common ancestor already had the faculty to become homo sapiens sapiens in his genetic inheritance. Is it possible to imagine that a group of hominids, morphologically identical to monkeys, was already "hominizable " and to say that the ancestor of the chimpanzee and more generally the group of Monkeys did not have this characteristic?. The phenotype and more generally morphology are misleading. There are fish living in deep canyons under the ice which, as deprived of light as they are, have eyes in the embryonic state, which they obviously have no use for. Why? Why not. We must consider that a hypothetical ancestor of the hominids, by all assumptions a panid, would have had the possibility of standing on two legs, the ancestor of simiesque primates perhaps not (because their genetic configuration did not allow it?)
Upright status would be one of the human phylum's possible phenotypes, but not for the phylum of the Monkeys.
Can we still say that an identical morphology means an identical evolution within the same ecosystem (theory of compared anatomy)? This assumption only calls upon phenotypes and not genotypes. What importance do certain characteristic genes hold (recessive genes, structural genes, regulatory genes, etc.)? Not only do they affect the morphology and the physiology of the individual, but more importantly, they lead to adaptations (Darwinism) or different behaviour. From this point of view, we should try to find, within the genotype of a given animal, dormant regulatory genes which do not affect morphology (kind of recessive regulatory genes). It is, obviously, only one assumption to be confirmed or denied. You will say that paleo-geneticists can study the DNA of fossils, except the studies currently under way among others at the INSERM in Marseilles by Éliane Béraud-Colomb are only equipped to study the DNA from bones up to 500 000 years old, and we all know that the older the bones are, the more this DNA is damaged, even destroyed. It remains to be seen if upright status, or what leads to it, is a genetic characteristic or an unconscious will. For that let us wait to more fully understand the entire human genome and to discover the mysterious actions of its genes.
Another hypothesis which would confirm that upright status is not the cause of separation between the Monkey and human phyla, is based on a recent paleontological discovery. Let us take the following graph:
Very simplified family tree of the human family
The study of one of our ancestors Australopithecus ramidus, discovered by paleontologist Tim White's team in 1992, shows that this anthropoid displays all the characteristics of a biped (and thus is part of the human family). Only this case is rather troubling. An analysis of the vegetable and animal fossils populating the site reveals that A. Ramidus lived in a forest medium, and the vertebrates found with him are monkeys of the baboon and colobe families, who live in trees. Similarly enamel on the teeth of our supposed ancestor is consistent with the theory of a forestlike living environment, feeding itself on soft fruits. All history books based on the "east side story " idea (Yves Copens) tell us that bipedia coexists with a savannah way of life, an environment made up of huge expanses of tall grasses with, far away, bushes and thickets. If Australopithecus ramidus lived in the forest, it did not need to stand upright and jump from thicket to thicket in order to escape its predators. The ramifications of this discovery, if they are confirmed by others, can only cast doubt on the idea of evolution of the biped phenomenon, while at the same time pushing back a common stock between monkeys and men. This function could thus not be related to the forest or savannah environment. Recently again, , a team of French palaeontologists directed by Michel Brunet discovered the jaw of an Australopithecus, named Abel, in Chad, some 2500 km west of the great African fracture which is thought to be responsible for the hominisation of the primates to the East. If Australopithecus appear on both sides of this fracture, it means that something else is responsible for biped status or for hominisation. " East side story " is called into question once again, and we must find a less Hollywood-style scenario.
How far back do we need to go to find an ancestor common to hominids and panids? Palaeontologists have not found their trace. Some place this ancestor, a small mammal the size of a rat, rather far back in the phylum (-30 million years). Strangely enough scientists like Yves Copens admit that an unexplained jump occured between this mammal and the " pre homo primates ". They have not found any intermediate phases in the evolution of this branch. Just as they cannot explain the relationship between the various hominid races that have been discovered. We saw that certain bones upset the famous phyletic continuity imposed by Darwin in the sense that heterogeneity reigns at the sites of discovery (geographical speciation trembles on its foundations) and for the anatomy of hominids-panids (biped monkeys, hominids with four legs).
Who is the monkey's descendant: man?
What is this common ancestor: a small mammal or a protozoan?.
Obviously, this diagram is extremely open to criticism, but it shows the limits of Darwin's methods of investigation. We will perhaps never find an ancestor common to both phyla. On one hand because fossils are more rare further back in time you go, and on the other hand, what actually remains of the fossilised bones brings less and less irrefutable evidence in the method of comparative anatomy. Darwinism wants at all cost to introduce a factor of phyletic continuity common to men and monkeys, so if the fossils unearthed reveal, as they do today, pseudo biped primates (autralopithecus ramidus) then small biped pseudo mammals (hypothesis!!) Etc... we will have to concede that this is an absurd model.
With what degree of certainty can we affirm today that man and monkeys
have a common primate ancestor? What proves it? And why should we continue
to believe this model if nothing proves it? In palaeontology, everything
is in an embryonic state and we do not have other examples of human races
with which to compare. Scientists should stop believing in their models
if serious doubts persist. From this point of view, under the inertia of
old postulates, new scientific models are mocked and put on the index.
This is precisely the argument made by the Neo-Darwinists, a respectable
school whose principles are firmly entrenched in the brains of biologists,
but unfortunately difficult to dethrone in spite of concrete evidence (We
know a scientist, little recognised by his peers, who dares to call into
question the traditional cosmological model. May he be publicly stoned
Let us take up once more the evolution of man as seen through the munificent eyes of Neo-Darwinism. We know that certain radiation (cosmic rays, radioactivity from certain elements, etc) directly affect the genetic inheritance of any organism. Let us assume that one of these radiations is the direct cause of the appearance of hominids or of the mutation of certain primates.
If man evolved from a an ancestor common to monkeys, and if today
monkeys still exist in the biosphere, it is that this "radioactive" phenomenon
would not have affected the entire chain of decendancy common to monkeys
and men. Better still, such a radiation could freely split a phylum into
two new branches without the new species thus created (or selected by Mother
Nature) being preyed upon. In that sense, a change of the biosphere would
not bring about the disappearance of the primary species (in the case of
the human phenomenon, the monkey). But why wouldn't this hypothetical change
which would have divided the " pre homo primate " phylum, have continued
to affect the apes, normally destined to extinction? The only tangible
argument would be to say that the "mutative agent" phenomenon was focused
and specific, and only brought about enough of a mutation to cause the
formation of futures hominids without affecting the entire line of descendancy.
Either than or these radiations affected only one specific ecological niche,
within which all the individuals were transformed. Following which, this
population would spread out over all the continents. This would be extremely
complex and in our minds, too highly vulnerable to random chance. Can this
phenomenon be reproduced and observed, and particularly the events which
bring about such a mutation without creating monsters (with the genetic
sense of the word), i.e. organisms that are non-viable in the long run.
It is known that radiation has disastrous consequences on the human organism,
causing the death of the organism or of its descendants. Simply look the
effects on the children of Hiroshima, or Chernobyl, the effects of lead
in the fish in Japan, etc. In any case, a mutation resulting from radiation
phenomenon is more destructive than creative. But we should not abandon
this hypothesis for we do not know to what degree radiative emissions influence
genetic components or the mechanisms responsible for evolution.
Phenomenon of random chance
Genetic mutations appear randomly (to be proven! and their frequency, generally low, is difficult to evaluate. However, many physical and chemical agents can induce mutations. Some of them are currently being used in genetics to study artificially-modified genomes. When the changes occur naturally, they have a great biological importance for they bring about new genotypes. When genetic polymorphism is increased within the species, it can have a beneficial or harmful effect. They constitute an essential factor in the genetic evolution of populations, and in the appearance of new species.
The chromosomal changes affect the entire fragment, which contains several genes, of the DNA molecule which forms a chromosome; These fragments can either be irremediably lost (deletion), or attached to another chromosome (translocation). Genetic mutations affect the structure of a gene: replacement of one (or of several) base(s) by one (or several) other(s), or simple deletion. The protein manufactured by the defective gene is different from that produced by the normal gene and, according where in the DNA the mutation took place, and the importance of the amino acids concerned, the protein can lose the ability to function at all. In any case, a mutation produces a new version of the gene, or allele, which will be transmissible if it is not lethal.
Mutation applied to the theory of evolution
Various mechanisms contribute to the stability of a species. The specific mutations, duplications, the genetic inversions, deletions, even associations of nucleotide sequences are at the base of the various alleles of the same gene, or the appearance of new genes. If man is distinct from the apes because of a mutation of this kind, we can probably stilll say that it is Mother Nature's doing. Unlike the case of radiation, it is a spontaneous change and not one coming from the environment. It is here that Darwin intervenes, introducing natural selection which is responsible for the genocide of the millions of mutant species (where are all these mutants? Was Lucie a nonviable mutant? Where have all the flying pigs gone?). The phenomenon is known, observed and is not disputed; it is "politically correct ". If humankind has lasted this long, it is because it was compatible with the environment; environmental selection (Darwin) thus did not destroy this phylum (great!! That was close). Darwin would say: "yes, that is why our ecosystem is the way it is today." What could be the nature of these mutations?
We know that the chimpanzee, a primate who genotype is nearest to man's, has one more pair of chromosomes than we do (named 2a and 2q). In man, these two pairs would be found in one place: pair number two. This mutation has overarching consequences in the phenotype and genotype. The new species must be viable and the characteristics of this new genotype must affect the sperm cells to be transmissible. When this mutation took place, what would later give rise to monkeys, and the future homo sapiens sapiens, coexisted (if one takes Australopithecus ramidus into account). Were these two species compatible? What would have been the result of their mating? When speciation took place, were the two species genetically compatible and reproducible, or incompatible and reproducible only within their own species? Certain biologists specializing in evolution even argue that the recombination of the two chromosomes passed from 46 plus 1 to 46 chromosomes. How certain are we that the man-monkey ancestor had 48 chromosomes? NOT AT ALL!!
In this case, why not say that our possible ancestor had 46 chromosomes (like modern man), and that the monkey is a mutant of the prehominids?. Then it is that second pair which would have split in two to give rise to the race of monkeys. Is this impossible, or just as possible as these two chromosomes fusing?
If Australopithecus ramidus (fruit-eating biped hominid) is one of the first mutants of a common primate (gorilla and chimpanzee) ancestor, the combination of the two characteristics would have caused a homogenisation of the 2 species and a standard evolution of the phylum.
In the case of man, that is not what happened. The biped primates most certainly cohabited with the quadrupeds for a while, but their ability to move on their hind legs enabled them to come out of the forest belt and to explore the savannah without being destroyed by the predators in this new ecosystem. We could also speculate on the reasons for this change of habitat. Why was this new upright race not excluded by the other primates and pushed forcibly towards the savannah?. Nothing prevents us from believing this. It is just as plausible as this increasingly false hypothesis: "it is the savannah which forced the hominids-to-be to stand upright ". According to the scenario of geographical "specification", morphological differences between the two lines would be amplified and encephalic development could have come about (which remains an unshakeable yet unfounded assumption).
Notice that what we have just said implies that the bipedia is THE factor of speciation which led to hominisation. This goes against the theories of geographical speciation that palaeontologists absolutely want to stick to the human phenomenon. We should be asking ourselves what process led to biped status, and not to attribute this property to natural selection or the consciousness of the organism vis-a-vis its new environment.
To conclude with man, we mention an article published in the April 1996 edition of Science et Avenir about A. Ramidus, or "the welcome guest". Pascal Picq, certainly a scientist since he is a lecturer at the Collège de France, said: "the irony of history is that we have practically no fossils between the hypothetical common ancestor of men and the chimpanzees, and chimpanzees themselves. If A.Ramidus is the missing link, then it is for the panids, not for the hominids ". Up to this point, we agree, if we are only looking at the fact that this being is a fruit-eater (but why separate the fact that the first hominids were fruit-eaters?). But our friend Pascal Picq is forced to admit that "the welcome guest" had the morphology of a biped creature. No problem, simply a beautiful pirouette on the part of the Collège de France and A. Ramidus is relegated to the ranks of monkeys. "Only the study of the post-cranial skeleton (White has recovered and assembled 45% of the bones) will confirm this. That might suggest that the ancestors of the large African monkeys were more biped than they are now ". This is how to deny that A. Ramidus could be a hominid living in a forest environment. Thus bipedia as a consequence of the savannah, and all the implications that entails, is safe.
It is not so much Pascal Picq and to Yves Coppens' theory that we criticise, it is the fact that they reject the possibility that a hominid can be a fruit-eater and evolve in a forest environment. Nothing could call into question these "a priori" evolutionary theories. Palaeontologists pass all their discoveries through the filter of theories which have given them their fifteen minutes of fame. Neither palaeontology, nor biogenetics, nor Darwinism, nor comparative embryonic anatomy can or must propose anything definite for man or evolution in general. As far as that is concerned, we should stick to the facts and explore all the possibilities in a less dogmatic way. I like Ummite philosophy well enough when it says to stick to what is practical and what has been integrated. Speculation is not dangerous in what it proposes, but in the fact that men see a truth in it before any proof is offrered for examination. How much longer will we be able to advance in quantum physics, genetics, palaeontology, moral ethics, etc... if we invent a logic stuck onto the old model with each new observation? Is there not something there to be re-evaluated?
From our present standpoint, we still do not know the causes of the speciation of man. Let us be provocative and say that we still do not know the causes of the speciation or of the degeneration of monkeys. If speciation is the appearance of a reproductive barrier between individuals, this barrier is either poor fertility of the hybrid descendants, or a mechanism preventing crossing. Among these mechanisms, the schools count:
- mechanical isolation. Mating is impossible due to the size or the shape of the genitals
- ethologic isolation. There is no sexual attraction between the partners.
- genetic isolation. The male and female gametes do not recognize each other.
- seasonal isolation. The mating period occurs at different times.
- ecological isolation.
It is astonishing to see that evolution in the Darwinian sense can isolate an entire branch of a species (except ecological isolation). Speciations, morphological and genetic upheavals are explained with gradualist and adaptationist theories based on the necessity of the environment and more generally on the observation of environment's consequences. As far as that is concerned, we would have to consider that an organism would remain passively and stupidly neutral vis-a-vis an aggressive environment. How can destruction due to the environment be called an adaptation?
There seems to be confusion between the effect and the cause. In mathematics, all you need is a counter-example to delimit the boundaries of a rule. Also, as we indicated at the beginning of this text, we proposed to show that the Darwinian theory of evolution can be allowed, but more interestingly it fits as the exception to some broader theory.
It goes without saying that the evironment acts on the species, but not where Darwinism founds its credo: the creation and evolution of species. The environment destroys (climatic or geological catastrophesetc) the environment attacks (the sun, difficult climate, etc) but the environment does not interfere in the domains which we attribute to it. At most, a rigorous selection on isolated individuals will give a particular characteristic to a race, but will not create a species (we do not put this forth as a universal truth, we propose). Let us look at pygmy horses and pigs without fat; there are numerous examples which can occur naturally and over long periods of time. Today, we have not yeat been able to create a new SPECIES naturally. Why? Darwinism says that organisms adapt to the environment. This hypothesis is very badly formulated, according to Darwin we should say "the environment adapts organisms " since Non- Darwinism says "organisms adapt to the environment ". That is why it is so difficult to approach and counter this theory.
Darwin would say: "It is raining because I took out my umbrella". Yes, it is raining, but not because I took out my umbrella. The real question is: "why is it raining? ".
What prevails, the environment or the organism? Is the organism ready to tolerate difficult variations in its ecosystem? I.e., can it evolve with its genetic baggage without changing species or disappearing? Does the possibility of adapting to the environment without changing phylum (without genetic change) exist in its genes?
We have considered the possibility that the environment could prevail over genetic and chromosomal changes, in the sense that the position of man's trunk, allowing him to stand upright, would have been transmitted to him by the environment and not because he wanted consciously to do it in order to escape his predators?. A human-centred (anthropic) worldview, wouldn't you say? Not, I am not a creationist. But we should study what we see and not to be afraid to consider that something else could be involved in the evolution of living beings. Another thing which cannot be localized, detected or defined in our current scientific language. Science is afraid to pass onto meta-science because it forgot what " Meta" means: a change of axis, a change of point of view. Those who have made science progress are not those who took up again and refined the old theories; it is those who, risking their lives (formerly! or their careers (today!) propose a different reality...