April 9, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Did Nature Dictate Biological Codes?

Pangloss was a character in Voltaire’s Candide made to caricature philosophers who give simplistic, optimistic answers to difficult questions.  Dr. Pangloss was fond of saying, a la Leibniz, that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  One evolutionist described a theory by two other evolutionists as possibly a “Panglossian argument” about the origin of life.  It was reported in Wired Science.
    Ralph Pudritz and Paul Higgs of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada recently published a theory of biological determinism: namely, that certain amino acids, being more thermodynamically likely than others, might lead to a universal code of life.  If amino acid formation leads to a preponderance of certain types over others, whether formed in meteorites, deep-sea vents or spark-discharge experiments like the famous one by Stanley Miller, then perhaps all life in space is constructed on the same building blocks.  The idea is “necessarily speculative,” Pudritz admitted, but “This may implicate a universal structure of the first genetic codes anywhere.
    Wired Science reporter Brandon Keim, wielding robust faith in the power of Darwinian selection, and a swift parry of the purpose-driven life, elaborated:

Pudritz and Higgs speculate that these 10 common amino acids met the needs of the earliest replicating molecules, with other, rarer acids used by the nascent genetic code as they formed or arrived – a process called “stepwise evolution,” culminating in the genes that gathered 3.6 billion years ago in a common ancestor of all complex life.

This is what Harvard biologist Irene Chen found a bit Candidian.  She thought the idea is “interesting,” but then said, “in the absence of some experimental backup, it’s generally difficult to know if this kind of analysis is a Panglossian argument.” 

Inspired by Drs. Pudritz and Higgs, we have a speculative theory for the origin of English.  Certain letters are easier to write than others.  The letters l, c, i, n, o, u, v, x and z are more likely to be found in nature.  These organized themselves into the common ancestor of all English novels and scientific papers.  In a process of stepwise evolution, the rarer letters used by the nascent language were incorporated as they formed or arrived, culminating in the memes that gathered 500,000 years ago in the evolving brain of Homo erectus (04/08/2009).  Since these met the needs of the earliest replicating memes of the time, natural selection led to a scientific paper that explained its emergence without the need for designers like Pudritz and Higgs.  This is the best of all possible worldly explanations to shield evolutionary theory from falsification, says Dr. Pangloss.

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