Help me stand up for Darwin

Athel Cornish-Bowden athel at
Tue Mar 31 11:46:08 EST 1998

James Foster <foster at> wrote:

>>3) "It is very unlikely (impossible) that complex stereo-isomeric
>>molecules in nature arise from non-organic material by accident."

>Could be. Fortunately, evolution doesn't rely on accident. It amplifies
>random changes if they are beneficial. If you take a random walk, but
>never take a step *away* from the refrigerator, its surprising how quickly
>you'll be able to get a snack.

>Also, ask them what a "stereo-isomeric" molecule is, and then ask them how
>many of them have published any actual research on these molecules. Not
>even the "biologists" publishing this argument are actually doing any work
>in this area.

>This is the argument from personal incredulity: "I don't understand how
>this could happen, therefore it can't". It's incredibly arrogant.

It's perhaps worth adding that adding a trace of brucine (an alkaloid
similar to strychnine) to a crystallizing solution of a racemic mixture of
an organic compound will often cause stereospecific crystals to form,
leaving the other stereoisomer in solution. This is (or used to be) a
standard way of resolving racemates. It's quite easy to do and would be a
good practical way of demonstrating that a very small aymmetric stimulus
(brucine is a highly asymmetric and also quite rigid molecule) can cause
asymmetry to appear "from nowhere". Unfortunately brucine is about as toxic
as strychnine, so this wouldn't be a wise experiment to give to a class of
creationist secondary school pupils.

Athel Cornish-Bowden

athel at

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