September 28, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Morphogenesis: Evolution of Form Solved?

The body plans of organisms are hard to account for in linear strands of DNA.  How do you get a backbone, vertebrae, and ribs out of a chain of nucleotides?  Recognizing the mystery of morphogenesis (the origin of form), the director of the Synthetic Life Lab in New York, Stuart Pivar, has published an “Innovative solution to the evolution of form,” reported PhysOrg.  His new theory is “based neither on a genetic code nor on natural selection, thus contradicting the orthodox Synthetic paradigm that has dominated evolutionary biology for seven decades.
    If it’s not neo-Darwinian, is it based on creation or intelligent design, then?  No way; “Nevertheless, this model offers an alternative naturalistic theory that can account for the origin of form without recourse to any form of creationism or supernatural intervention,” the press release ended.  “If it should gain widespread acceptance, this model would negate the creationist argument that science has no theory for the origin of complex life.”
    The essence of this promising theory that eluded da Vinci, Vesalius, Goethe, von Baer, D’Arcy Thompson and others, published in the International Journal of Astrobiology,1 is “based on the premise that the body is a mosaic enlargement of self-organized patterns engrained in the membrane of the egg cell.”  The paper consists largely of drawings of egg cells morphing into limbs, skulls, hands, feet, vertebrae, ribs – all put together into a human skeleton.  One of his drawings is reproduced in the PhysOrg article.  The caption in the paper states, “The mutual rotation of the two toroidal spheres through two rotations implants the notochord and the nerve chord beneath the dorsal midline, causing the ribs to fragment.  The reassembly of the fragments forms the vertebrae and the somites, the latter forming the interior bands of muscles that encompass the body.”
    How does this become an exercise in astrobiology instead of a demonstration of embryonic development?  Pivar claims that his “hydrostatic model” gives a “causative” explanation of how body plans evolved, “independent of the environment, rather than the result of random errors in the genome.”  What is this hydrostatic model?  In short, “The body is a mosaic enlargement of the pattern of circumferential bands assumed by the columns and rows of molecules that comprise the egg cell membrane.”  Under its internal pressure, the egg cell assumes a toroidal shape that produces an incipient notochord.  Let’s let him describe what happens next:

The hypothesis presumes that, in response to physical forces, the molecules comprising the egg cell membrane become arranged in circumferential bands separated by polar meridians, subdividing the surface into trapezoidal plates, much like a geodesic globe of Earth.  Subject to deformation during subsequent hydrodynamic disruption, each of the plates will curl axially to become a bone of the vertebrate skeleton, the apical cap forming the skull.  This topological theorem predicts the form of the bones of the vertebrate skeleton and their configuration in the body with accuracy beyond the possibility of coincidence.

PhysOrg quoted Mt. Holyoke paleontologist Mark McMenamin calling this new hypothesis “a seismic event in science” and pointed to a reviewer who said, “the article should be published, so that as many scientists as possible can participate in the discussion on this new important subject.”


1.  Stuart Pivar, “The origin of the vertebrate skeleton,” International Journal of Astrobiology, FirstView online 21 Aug 2010, doi: 10.1017/S147355041000025X.

Surely he cannot be serious, can he?  Body plans are more than bones – what about the muscles, nerves, and organs that animate them?  Besides, most life forms are unicellular and invertebrate.  If he is suggesting a physical, mechanistic, natural-law explanation, why the diversity of body plans, especially in the Cambrian Explosion?  His drawings take known end points (a skull, a rib cage) and extrapolate them backward to known starting points (egg cells), with no explanation of how, mechanistically, the egg cell necessarily gets from there to here.  How do hydrodynamic deformations produce eye sockets and a jaw in a vertebrate skull?  He has no causal explanation; just his imagination.  Any set of n 7-year-olds could produce xn different drawings from the egg, where x is a positive integer from 1 to infinity, producing infinite bizarre end points from hydrodynamic forces on molecular bands in the egg membrane.
    If Pivar thinks he can pin all morphogenesis on initial conditions in the egg, he has merely displaced the puzzle into the egg.  How did the egg cell get so precisely designed to be able to generate such complexity and diversity?  This is no more an explanation than displacing the origin of life on earth to the assertion, “Aliens brought it here.”  OK, then, where did the aliens get it?  It’s a classic sidestep.
    The only way this silly hypothesis could get through peer review is that Darwinians are desperate.  They cannot answer the devastating critique of naturalism found in the second half of the film Darwin’s Dilemma, where the mind-boggling details of development were shown in a mind-boggling way (after the film gave airtight documentation of the sudden emergence of all the body plans of all the major phyla at the Cambrian Explosion).  Caught empty-handed, the naturalists have been driven to say something – anything, even cartoon diagrams – to fill in the void in their world view about how body plans arose.  Hypotheses this vapid, this hyped by the secular press as something that might “account for the origin of form without recourse to any form of creationism or supernatural intervention,” can only be interpreted as “something is better than nothing” – if you can call it something.
    “How life originated and evolved is arguably the greatest unsolved problem facing science,” they said.  “Thousands of scientists and scores of organizations and scientific journals are dedicated to discovering the mechanisms underlying this mystery.”  It’s not unsolved by science at all.  By naturalism, maybe, but not by science.  The science of intelligent design solves it perfectly.  Darwinian desperation at this fundamental level shows that ID is winning the evidence war.  Now on to the persuasion war.

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