Posted by: Randall Niles | August 28, 2009

Origin of Sex

I’ve had the pleasure to work with Jonathan McLatchie all week. Jonathan is visiting us as an intern from Scotland, where he studies forensic biology at Strathclyde University. He’s a brilliant young guy who’s bolstering our research articles in the areas of biological science, information, and design. 

Interestingly, while we’ve discussed everything from Beta-D-ribonucleotides to the endoplasmic reticulum, it seems the hot topic for us this week was the Origin of Sex. Yes, that’s right… chuckle now, if you must. 

You see, sex makes absolutely no sense in a purely naturalistic/materialistic cosmos. The Evolution of Sex has been a timeless mystery for Darwinian scientists. Simply, “Sex never should have happened.” 

The origin and subsequent maintenance of sex and recombination is a phenomena not easily explained by Darwinian evolution. Evolutionary mechanisms such as natural selection are not able to reveal why organisms should abandon asexual reproduction in favor of more costly and inefficient sexual reproduction. In his book, “The Masterpiece of Nature: The Evolution of Genetics and Sexuality”, Graham Bell described the dilemma as follows:                                                           

“Sex is the queen of problems in evolutionary biology. Perhaps no other natural phenomenon has aroused so much interest; certainly none has sowed as much confusion. The insights of Darwin and Mendel, which have illuminated so many mysteries, have so far failed to shed more than a dim and wavering light on the central mystery of sexuality, emphasizing its obscurity by its very isolation.”  

As you probably know, most single-celled organisms reproduce asexually. Asexual reproduction is the formation of new individuals from cells of only one parent, without gamete formation or fertilization by another member of the species. If life on earth is derived entirely from these single-celled creatures, why was this simple (yet efficient) method of asexual reproduction set aside in favor of sexual reproduction? 

In his book “Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea,” Carl Zimmer continues: 

“Sex is not only unnecessary, but it ought to be a recipe for evolutionary disaster. For one thing, it is an inefficient way to reproduce…And sex carries other costs as well…By all rights, any group of animals that evolves sexual reproduction should be promptly outcompeted by nonsexual ones. And yet sex reigns… Why is sex a success, despite all its disadvantages?”  

From the perspective of evolutionary biology, sex is without question ‘an inefficient way to reproduce.’ Consider all that the sexual process entails, including the complexity involved in reproducing the information carried within the DNA. From an evolutionary point of view, sex would be considered an absurdity. Yet from a design point of view, it is nothing short of incredible! 

The origin of sex remains a mystery for those committed to a purely materialistic view of reality – not to mention the origin of the incredibly complex meiotic process that makes sex possible, or the intricate development of the embryo (which is itself an engineering marvel). However, these are topics for a different day… 

Let me conclude with the popular, mainstream position on the Origin of Sex… In 2001, Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory conducted studies using “digital organisms” to simulate life before sex, and then announced the likely “mechanism for instigating Earth’s first courtship” — STRESS.   

Yes, that’s right, cosmic stress appears to be the reason that organisms sought intimacy for the first time!

Here’s a summary of the Caltech/NASA report as published in “The Origin of Sex: Cosmic Solution to Ancient Mystery,” R. R. Britt, July 10, 2001 (you can find this article on Space.com): 

“Comet or asteroid impacts could have stressed asexual organisms enough to send them down the path of sexual reproduction after forcing a flurry of genetic mutations. Heavy doses of radiation might also have done the trick.”  

OK, think that one through, 

Randall Niles


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