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A Chemist's View of Life: Ultimate Reductionism & Dissent

A review of Christian Schwabe's 'The Genomic Potential Hypothesis' by Gert Korthof.
24 Mar 2002   (updated 23 Oct 2005)

Embryos swimming in a fresh water pond?

The Genomic Potential Hypothesis
Christian Schwabe (2001)
'The Genomic Potential Hypothesis: a Chemist's View of the Origins, Evolution and Unfolding of Life'
    Schwabe's hypothesis that all species on earth have an independent but natural origin, is a remarkable, non-creationist, unorthodox theory of the origin of life. To describe his theory as a 'multiple origins' theory is an understatement, because we are talking about a billion living and extinct species. That means a billion independent origins. Clearly this means a complete rejection of the fundamental Darwinian principle of Common Descent, which postulates there was only one origin of life. Schwabe's theory includes two related ideas: the origin of life is inevitable and the current genetic code is not 'a frozen accident'. Both are an inevitable consequence of the universal laws of chemistry, according to Schwabe. This again places Schwabe in the unorthodox camp, because the consensus view of the origin of the genetic code is that it is 'a frozen accident'. Schwabe rejects mutation and natural selection as the mechanisms that produced species. They are completely superfluous mechanisms. This makes him an anti-neo-Darwinist. The reasons for his rejection are the (perceived) missing intermediates in the fossil record and the failure to construct particular gene and protein phylogenies. However he accepts the fossil record and fossil chronology as real. And if that is combined with the simultaneous origin of all species, we get one of the most wonderful parts of Schwabe's theory: all species start life as single cells ('pro-forms'), they continue to live as such until they develop into adults when their niche has appeared and the fossil record demands them to do so. Conclusion

Two basic interpretations of the relations between species

common descent
Darwinists explain all living and extinct species by Common Descent of all life: the tree of life. Darwinists see only advantages of Common Descent: the tree explains similarities because common properties are inherited. Dissimilarities are caused by branching at different times plus increasing diversification as time goes by. The more similar species are (A and B), the more recently they split. The more dissimilar they are (A and C), the earlier they split. Furthermore the observed groups-within-groups pattern is explained in a natural way by repeated branchings. According to Darwinists similarities in organisms are no accidents. The hypothesis that the tree of life has one origin arises almost by necessity from the tree concept. If one goes back in time all branches converge in one common ancestor. (For additional arguments see table below).
    The difference between Darwinism and Schwabe could not be more fundamental than it is. Independent Origin can easily explain dissimilarities in species. Diversity is expected when every species arose directly from non-life. Schwabe chooses Independent Origin of all species because he sees irreparable difficulties with particular phylogenetic trees of genes/proteins. This choice contradicts the principle of Common Descent of all life. The tree of life simply does not exist. Schwabe has a number of additional arguments pro Independent Origin (see table). IO needs to explain similarities in organisms too. If all species arose independently then why do similarities exist at all? Why groups within groups? Why are humans within a group of apes within a group of mammals within a group of vertebrates within a group of animals within a group of eukaryotes? Sequence similarities must be accidental in the Independent Origin theory (1). According to Darwinism there are too much similarities in species to be explained by chance. Although Schwabe does not state it explicitly, his view implies for example that humans and chimps (>95% genetic similarity) arose independently. All birds arose independently. All birds of prey arose independently. All species of eagle arose independently. All this is absurd in the eyes of Darwinists. Furthermore if all species arose independently, why do they all have the same genetic code? A multitude of alternative codes is compatible with life [see: review of Remine's book].

Schwabe's view can best be summarized by comparing it with Darwinism:

TopicChristian SchwabeDarwinism
Common Descentno tree of life, no common descent of all life.one tree of life. All life originated from a one or a few life forms.
Speciesspecies are fixed; immutable. Species essentially stay what they are for their whole existence on earth. Every species has its own origin. species change or split in two new species (=speciation).
Natural selectiondoes not create species. Environment does not determine morphology.natural selection (environment) is crucial in creating adaptation and new species.
Mutationrarely positive effect. No amount of mutation can reshape species or create new species.mutation is crucial for change of species.
Variationall variations observed today are due to prebiotic events.variations arise at any time in the history of the earth.
Adaptationsomehow directly caused by DNAcaused by natural selection and mutation
Fossilsfossils are real. Standard age of earth. Abrupt appearance.fossils are extinct species or ancestors of living species.
Fossil chronologyfirst appearance in the fossil record is not the real origin of the species.first appearance of a new species is the real origin of the species.
Intermediatesintermediates do not exist in the fossil record. intermediates do exist. Evolution is gradual.
Extinctionextinction is real. All species go extinct, because no new species originatenew species fill in the niches of extinct species. Extinction explains gaps.
life versus speciesthe origin of life and the origin of species are the same problemthe origin of life and the origin of species are two different problems
Origin of lifelife originated billions of times. The origin of life is inevitable given the right initial conditions.life may have originated several times, but only one surviving cell is the ancestor of all living species.
Genetic codethere is only one universal genetic code because it is determined by the universal laws of chemistry. genetic code is a 'frozen accident'. It has evolved and is evolving.
DNA, proteinsall DNA/protein sequences have an independent origin.all sequences are derived from other sequences by mutation.
Classificationkingdom, order, family, genus are human inventions. Only species are real.classification is largely a natural system reflecting common descent.

All topics in the table are logically connected. Whatever the facts, the logic of the paradigm demands some statements to be true and others to be false. For example it's logical in the Independent Origin paradigm to accept fixity of species because species don't need to change. They don't need to split, because all species originated simultaneously. But then natural selection isn't necessary anymore: species are not created by natural selection. Mutations aren't necessary either. Anyway mutations cannot reshape one species into another. Since mutations are the source of variation, variations must be meaningless. So variation cannot be not created during the course of evolution, it must be present right from the origin of life. And if mutation, natural selection, and variation are unimportant in evolution, they cannot explain adaptation. This is remarkable, because any big theory about life has to be able to explain adaptation (29). Independent Origin does not need intermediates, because species are not produced by a gradual process of small modifications. There is no problem of missing links, because Independent Origin does not need links. Since the Independent Origin paradigm accepts the fossil record as it is, it accepts extinction. All species go extinct and no new species will ever appear in the course of evolution. When new species seem to appear in the fossil record, they cannot be really new, but they arise from pre-existing 'pro-forms'. It follows from the Independent Origin paradigm that the particular genetic code on earth must be natural, reproducible and truly universal. It also follows from I.O. that all DNA and protein sequences arose independently and not from duplications + mutations. Although it is not a necessity, it's no surprise that chemistry has the power to create the millions of species independently over and over again and that all properties of species are directly explained by chemistry, since Schwabe is a chemist.
    The same logical connections hold between topics of the Darwinian paradigm. If only one origin of life is postulated, then all species must have evolved from the first life form. And it logically follows that a mechanism must exist that transforms one species into another. It follows that species cannot be immutable and that mutation and selection must be important factors in shaping and reshaping species and their adaptations and intermediates must exist. And it follows that it should also be possible to construct trees of DNA, proteins, species and fossils.
It seems, we have to make a choice between these two paradigms.


Origin of life

  Schwabe ideas about the origin of species differ radically from those of mainstream scientists. Mainstream science postulates one origin of life (almost by necessity). Schwabe claims that all life arose directly from pools of chemicals in a natural way. He points out that the Miller-Urey experiment produced amino acids in exactly the same proportions as found in the Murchison meteorite. This means that truly universal laws of chemistry are at work. Those laws are favourable for the origin of life. More than favourable: those laws make the origin of life inevitable when the proper reaction conditions prevail. Schwabe wants to make the origin of life research "a hard science based upon chemistry, thermodynamics, kinetics and the laws of mass action". The origin of life is not a one-time lucky event "in contrast to the chance-oriented Darwinian paradigm".
    Only after reading Gánti (23) I realised that Schwabe did not analyse the task at hand: what is it that needs to be explained? What is life? And if you skip that question, how can you make a significant contribution to the origin of life field? Moreover, how can you ever hope to explain the origin of millions of complex species, if you do not have a clear understanding of how to explain simple life forms? There is more about the problems and dilemmas of the origin of life in books for the non-specialist, for example Fry (26), than in Schwabe's book! Schwabe is blind to the fact that he and scientists in general have a common task: the search for natural explanations of life. Schwabe prefers an unproductive ideological battle against Darwinists above producing 'hard science'.
    Furthermore, his ideological points are not new, sometimes trivial and not rejected by everybody. For example Nobel Prize winner Christian de Duve already stated that life did not arise by chance, and chemistry is deterministic. Schwabe seems to be unaware of the fact that chance does not exclude inevitability. For example there is a 99.9% probability that number six will occur in a series of 38 throws of dice (2). Even in the evolution of species on earth there is inevitability despite a lot of historical contingency according to palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris. This is because of convergence, and convergence means independent origin of similar characteristics. Many others before Schwabe have pointed out the lack of laws in biology. For example in the morphologies of organisms (Brian Goodwin) and the origin of life (Stuart Kauffman). So Schwabe's campaign against chance is not very original.
    Finally, Schwabe's non-evolutionary theory of the origin of life has deep roots in Greek philosophy. Philosopher and physician Hippocrates, unable to think in terms of evolution, "did not search for the possible mode of the origin of the simplest organisms on earth, but sought to derive man himself, the crown of earthly existence, directly from material substances"! (22).

Origin of the genetic code

  The 'genetic code' is the translation of the 64 base triplets into 20 amino acids. Both Schwabe and mainstream science accept that the genetic code is universal for life. However the explanation of this fact could not be more different. For mainstream science the genetic code was a 'frozen accident', because it did not seem to change and it seemed to be an arbitrary code.
universal genetic code:
Schwabe Darwinism
necessary +
multiple origins
arbitrary +
single origin
Incidentally, the 'frozen accident' hypothesis was invented by the chemist Francis Crick, not by a biologist ignorant of biochemistry. Once established, (almost) any change in the code would be catastrophic for a species, so the genetic code is 'frozen'. Because the code is arbitrary and universal, mainstream science concluded that all life evolved from a single organism (common descent). But Schwabe claims that the observed genetic code inevitably follows from chemical laws, and is nothing like a 'frozen accident'. It's a natural chemical code. He attempts to explain the origin of the current genetic code, and refers to publications that attempted to find evidence for the inevitability of the genetic code, but "were not totally successful". At the same time we can see that Schwabe is more or less forced to interpret the current genetic code as a necessity. How could he otherwise explain that a million species came up with exactly the same genetic code? (18).
    What if Schwabe were right about the inevitability of the code? A proof of the inevitability of the code would not destroy common descent, but it would stop to be evidence for common descent. However, the failure to prove the inevitability of the code would make independent origin very implausible.
    What about the variations of the code? Schwabe's position and Darwinism are in fact extreme positions and I think there is a middle position: the genetic code is neither completely inevitable, nor completely arbitrary. The genetic code couldn't be 100% inevitable anyway because there are a number of small variations of the standard code (24). Schwabe ignores this. The existence of small variations of the code imply that the code is neither completely frozen and nor completely universal. However, "the existence of non-standard codes offers no support for a 'multiple origins' view of life on earth. Lineages that exhibit non-standard codes are clearly and unambiguously related to organisms that use the standard code: they are distributed as small 'twigs' within the evolutionary tree of life" (28). Moreover, the small variations suggest evolvability of the code. There is computational evidence that the code has been optimised for error minimisation by natural selection (25).
    Schwabe's theory of the origin of the genetic code has a definite disadvantage when compared to an evolutionary theory. Schwabe cannot start with a simple code and evolve a complex one. Schwabe's theory must start with all 20 amino acids, because all species now have 20 amino acids in the code. However, an evolutionary scenario can start with a limited number of amino acids (6-10) and gradually increase the number to 20 amino acids (30).

The Genomic Potential Hypothesis

  For Schwabe the origin of life and the origin of species are the same problem and he tries to eliminate the 'lucky accident' model from the origin of life as well from the origin of species. I have sympathy for his rejection of 'lucky accidents' in the origin of life. In the domain of the origin of life obviously the main role is played by chemistry. If this attitude helps to explain the origin of the genetic code, it would be a tremendous scientific progress. Successful or not, it is good science to try to do so. However his attempt to extend this approach to the origin of species fails, because the 'lucky accidents' reappear in full magnitude in his theory of the origin of genomes, as I will explain below. How can chemistry of nucleotides explain the origin of genomes? It is quite a different matter to explain the origin of life by chemistry than to explain the origin of fully functional genomes by pure chemistry (23). Let's first see his views about the origin of genomes:
  • "... the nearly limitless potential information hidden in the tons of nucleic acid of the DNA or RNA type () would inevitably lead to all the life forms on earth."
  • "Thus, it is the burden of the genomist to replace chance events of the old model with a series of principally known reactions of predictable consequences."
  • "The history of species begins in pools which where likely not much larger then a liter..."; "...when polymerisation began every pool was different ..."
So in Schwabe's model of the origin of life large numbers of bases + relative concentration of G,C,A,T + chemical laws + suitable conditions are enough to create not only the simplest but all the genomes. Schwabe seems to think that if a small simple genome (a single cell) can be generated than a large complex genome (of a multicellular organism) can be generated too. But the laws of chemistry cannot explain a DNA sequence. This is a crucial point. Paul Davies most forcefully and clearly explained this crucial point (3,p120). Davies conclusion is that 'Specific randomness' [DNA] cannot be produced by a deterministic mechanical lawlike process without a huge element of luck (i.e. chance) (3,p. 119). Indeed, physics and chemistry can explain the structure and dynamics of DNA bases; why DNA is a stable double helix, why DNA is so perfectly able to replicate itself. However chemistry is powerless to determine the subset of all possible DNA sequences that are biologically significant (4). Only a tiny fraction of all random DNA sequences have biological meaning. So if Schwabe wants to get rid of luck, he needs a mechanism other than the laws of chemistry. Schwabe has difficult times explaining genomes without natural selection. He comes in conflict with his own probability calculations on the origin of relaxin from insulin by gradual steps. To convert both insulin (50 amino acids) into relaxin and the insulin receptor (1000 amino acids) into a relaxin receptor, one needs 4x101050 trials in total. Such probabilities mean that such an event would not happen according to Schwabe. But if it is impossible to evolve one hormone/receptor pair by modification of existing ones, why should it be easier to create all the thousands of genes of an organism in one independent origin event? This needs to be 1 trial otherwise natural selection would be implied. If it is difficult for Darwinian organisms to 'find' those sequences, why would it be more probable in a pool of nucleotides? I can think of only one advantage: a litre water can contain more random DNA chains than a population of organisms (a species). Organisms are subjected to more restrictions than molecules. Organisms need space, food, time to reproduce and grow. A million pools of 1 litre water can contain more DNA sequences than a million species. And species are slower than molecules. But both species and naked DNA sequences live in the same abstract 'DNA space' and the same physical world. The number of all possible sequences of say 1 billion bases long (a genome length) is the same in both theories. And so is the fraction that is viable.
    Anyhow, the assembled genome needs to be tested for its viability in both theories. To test a potential genome one would have it sitting in a cell and see if it survives in its environment. This is the only way for single celled organisms. But how to test multicellular organisms in a single cell state as Schwabe wants it in his Genomic Potential Hypothesis? Impossible. There is no short cut for testing genomes. I have the idea that Schwabe is trying to substitute extinction for natural selection as the mechanism of eliminating wrong genomes. If so, he should admit this. The worst thing is that Schwabe, as an exact scientist (chemistry being more exact than biology!), does not even attempt to create a rigorous foundation for his alternative theory.
    I have only touched upon one of the massive amount of objections to The Genomic Potential Hypothesis. I add just a second reason in the next paragraph 'Reductionism'. There are more examples in my review of Senapathy, who has a nearly identical theory called 'Independent Birth of Organisms'. Furthermore, many fundamental facts about how organisms are constructed clash with the whole idea of independent origin of genomes (here is a summary).

Reductionism: where are the chromosomes?

  In Schwabe's philosophy organisms are reduced to genomes and genomes are reduced to DNA-sequences. Here is reductionism in a nutshell: "Once they [nucleotides] are linked into chains they spell out an organism". But a genome is not just a very long DNA sequence.

G-banded human metaphase karyotype
G-banded human metaphase karyotype (male: 46XY) © www.answers.com

In reality eukaryotic genomes consist of chromosomes. This is clear when viewing the human chromosome set (see picture of karyotype). Chromosomes have structural features: one constriction in each chromosome called a centromere, (which are the attachment points for the mitotic spindle), G-, R-bands, and telomeres. Furthermore each species has its characteristic complement of differently sized and structured chromosomes, called the karyotype. The discipline that studies chromosomes is called cytogenetics and it uses microscopic techniques to visualise chromosomes. Karyotypes are not randomly distributed over species, genera and families. Chromosomes constitute a higher level of organisation of DNA, without any chemical necessity, and without any biological necessity, but with a definite systematic distribution pattern. There is no biological, biochemical or genetical reason why the human genome should consist of 23 pair differently sized chromosomes and why the genes are distributed over the 23 chromosomes in the way they are now. Compare chimp and human karyotypes: why should similar genes be located on similar chromosomes of both human and chimp? These similarities arose by accident from the primordial pond? (Schwabe accuses Darwinists of using too much lucky accidents). The only reasonable explanation is that human and chimp are evolutionary related. All of this is totally ignored by Schwabe's theory of independent origin of genomes.
    It would be foolish to say that karyotypes arose simultaneously and independently from a 'pool of fresh water' and produces the similarities and dissimilarities we observe now. It would be still more foolish to claim that for example the (human) sex chromosomes X and Y arose spontaneously from 'pools of fresh water'. The function of the highly differentiated sex chromosomes and the specific genes they contain can only be understood from their evolutionary history. Evidence supports the theory that the XY pair of chromosomes evolved from a non-differentiated pair of chromosomes, and that the Y chromosome degenerated to a minimalist endproduct but is still essential for creating a male (19). There is a large body of literature on the evolution of sex chromosomes and the fundamental biological principles underlying its peculiarities. Not a topic to ignore if you want to explain genomes. But still this is only a minor part of the literature about chromosomes in the animal and plant kingdom. Each chromosome is evidence against independent origin of genomes. I could write a whole book on this topic. And then the omission of chromosomes is only one example of Schwabe's reductionism.

Pro-Forms: hypothetical or imaginary?

  In Schwabe's theory every species originated 3.5 billion years ago. This should show up in the fossil record. But it does not. So Schwabe invented the concept 'Pro-Forms' ('without form', 'before form'), a concept unknown in biology. The concept is crucial in his theory, but there is no single chapter devoted to 'pro-forms'. Information about 'pro-forms' is vague and hidden in remarks, metaphors and graphs. Schwabe views the relation between 'pro-forms' and adult animals as the relation between a caterpillar and a butterfly. Just as a single insect genome produces a caterpillar and a butterfly, a single animal genome produces 'pro-forms' and an adult animal. But since Schwabe claims that every species started 3.5 billion years ago, they must exist for millions and billions of years in a formless (single cell?) state. After that period of invisibility, adult animals become visible in the fossil record. This immediately causes a problem: maintaining genomes for 3.5 billion years in good order. Only natural selection can prevent an accumulation of mutations in genes, and genes can only be selected if they are used ('use it or lose it' principle). Genes involved in an adult multicellular individual are not used in a single cell state (principle of cell differentiation).
Hypothetical Line of
Phenotypical Development
  Fig. 5 (chapter 12) Years ago (x106)
Please note the absence of tick marks on the vertical axis (body size). The minimum body size cannot be determined from this graph, however it must be the size of a single cell.

What does that mean for humans? Schwabe accepts the standard age of the human species (about 5 million years). For Schwabe this means humans became visible at that time, since humans existed 3.5 billion years as very small 'pro-forms' and started to increase in size during the last 2 million years. According to a graph (fig. 5 in Chapter 12), this increase in body size is gradual from invisible to our current size. This implies that humans lived as fly-sized, rat-sized, cat-sized, dog-sized creatures! Dwarfs? Midgets? Gnomes? Does Schwabe really look for adult rat-sized human skeletons in the fossil record? Are there male and female 'pro-forms'? Are they haploid or diploid? How do they reproduce? There are many steps in Professor Schwabe's contention which are not stated with as much clarity and precision as one could desire, and I fear the reason is that clarity and precision make them implausible. The 'pro-form' idea seems merely an ad hoc explanation to protect the theory of independent origin from falsification by the data of the fossil record and has no positive data that support it.
    There is another problem for Schwabe: oxygen. Either human cells originated 3.5 billion years ago and were anaerobic (don't need oxygen), or they originated only after oxygen levels reached current levels of 21% (about 550 million years ago) and were aerobic (need oxygen). Whether humans existed as single cells or multicellular beings, in both cases human cells need oxygen. Human cells are aerobic. That is the way human cells are. Therefore, the cells in the first scenario are not human cells. The second scenario contradicts Schwabe's assertion that all genomes originated 3.5 billion years ago. If Schwabe insists on 3.5 billion years, then he is forced to accept an evolutionary change from anaerobic to aerobic state. This conflicts with his non-evolutionary worldview, because in his worldview genomes are essentially fixed after they come into being. Even if a genome was accidentally pre-adapted to a future oxygen-rich atmosphere, it simple could not survive until then (31). A courageous dissident would have mentioned all this. Let's assume it escaped his attention.

Embryos swimming in a fresh water pond

  The most catastrophic implication of his theory of independent origin of genomes is that a human fetus must develop outside the womb in a fresh water pond. There is no way around. If your theory demands that a mammalian embryo develops from a single cell and that cell originates directly from a fresh water pond, then this implies that somehow, somewhere, sometime a transition must take place from an embryo living in a water-based environment and to an air breathing baby. Further implications are that there is no maternal womb support, so no constant body temperature, no constant food and oxygen supply, no mother's milk supply after 'birth' (what does 'birth' mean in this context?), no parental care. Nothing! Nine months! Internal gestation in all placental mammals invented for nothing. Dispensable! In Darwin's time creationists wrestled with the explanation of belly buttons of the first humans (20). Is Schwabe unaware of all this? One gets cynical when confronted with all the absurd consequences of independent origin. Is this science fiction? Is this a chemist with too much imagination? Birds and even some fish species have parental care. Even reptiles do something to ensure egg survival. Even plants invest food in their seeds, etc. I collected all these fundamental and fatal objections on the page Independent Origin and the facts of biology.

Where did the first cells got their energy from?

  The most straightforward and elegant refutation of independent origin of all species is the energy requirement of the first life forms. Cells get their energy in one of three ways (27):
  1. Photosynthesis: the use of sunlight to synthesise energy-rich compounds (sugars). Photosynthesis requires complex and highly evolved proteins, and they cannot be assumed to be produced abiotically.
  2. Heterotrophy: animals and fungi take in energy-rich compounds from the environment. These compounds could only have been synthesised by life forms. Therefore, all animals, including humans, cannot be first life.
  3. Autotrophy: they use one carbon compounds such as carbon dioxide to synthesise organic material and obtain energy from inorganic sources.
By definition, the first organisms must have been autotrophic: they could not have relied on other organisms for their energy! This elegantly refutes the theory of simultaneous origin of all species. Please note, that this refutation is not based on evolution, but ultimately on biochemistry, Schwabe's expertise!

Schwabe's problems with Molecular Evolution

  Why invent a scientific alternative for evolution? Consider the following two DNA sequences of 10 bases:
The second could be derived from the first by a minimum of 4 point mutations. If all 4 mutations increase the fitness of the organism, this is easy for Darwinism. However if the 3 intermediate steps are neutral it is somewhat more difficult. If the 3 intermediate states are deleterious it is very hard for Darwinism to go from the first to the second sequence. It would be harder still if not impossible to do if 5 or more of the bases needed to be replaced. That is the situation for Darwinism. Now consider independent origin. Assume the four bases are present in equal proportions, have no preferences (5) and all conditions are right for the formation of polynucleotides. What is the probability that (1) and (2) are produced by random combinations of the 4 bases? Both sequences have the same probability of 1 in (1/4)10. Having the same probability would be an advantage for the theory, but a disadvantage is that it is a small probability. Given enough time and resources and a sufficiently large number of generated sequences (10 million), both sequences will inevitably occur. Indeed any sequence will occur with 100% certainty. This seems to be a very attractive idea. But see paragraph Intermediates. This simple example is the background of a heated argument between Schwabe and the Darwinists.
Let's have a look at his criticism of Darwinism. Schwabe is a chemist and his expertise is the hormone relaxin. He published a standard work on relaxin (6). He studied relaxin sequences and their biochemical activities in different animals. He claims that distribution patterns of insulin, relaxin and cytochrome in different species contradict common descent. For example
  1. vertebrate hormones are found in invertebrates; animal hormones in plants and single cellular organisms, and even in prokaryotes. Example: pig relaxin is found in a primitive multicellular brainless marine animal Ciona intestinalis (32).
  2. the pig and whale relaxin similarity is truly astounding considering the fact that relaxins of closely related animals can be so dramatically different And he criticises ad hoc hypotheses put forward by Darwinists such as variable molecular clocks and horizontal gene transfer.
  3. that parts of the relaxin hormone are constant across species, but are not necessary for hormone activity. He claims that Darwinism cannot explain that non-functional parts of a hormone are invariable. They should accumulate mutations.
  4. Schwabe further claims that (biochemically) inferior relaxin had become fixed in the mouse against selection pressure. (I think he needs to go beyond biochemical tests and observe the behaviour of different relaxin variants (inferior, normal, superior) in mouse populations during a number of generations).
  5. according to Darwinism the relaxin hormone/receptor pair evolved via mutations from the insulin pair. This would need 4x101050 trials in total. So this is an impossible scenario according to Schwabe. Indeed: if the calculation is correct then it would be more difficult to do that in living organisms and populations than in a random pool of nucleotides!?
I did not yet check all of these claims (I include them nonetheless to be fair to Schwabe). However, I was informed that Schwabe\B4s claim about pig relaxin in Ciona intestinalis could not be confirmed (33). I did check the following claims:


The Schwabe-Denton interpretation of cytochrome-c differences

  Remarkably Schwabe repeats Michael Denton(1985)'s illustration of cytochrome differences (without acknowledging the source of his illustration) and he repeats the same interpretation errors as Denton (21).
Schwabe Denton cytochrome
Fig 1. The 'Darwinian prediction' is Schwabe's addition to Denton(1985)
Fig 2. This tree shows that Schwabe and Denton are comparing the bacterium against the red group. This is an uninformative pointless comparison because both bacterium and the members of the red group are the descendants of the common ancestor A and split at the same time.

cytochrome comparisons
Fig 3. and this is what they should have compared: pairs of species with different split times (1-6).

The errors are:
  1. Schwabe and Denton misrepresent the Darwinian prediction. Darwinism (common descent) does not predict what Schwabe claims it predicts. It is important to keep in mind what CD predicts: those species that split more recently, will be more similar than those that split less recently. In molecular terms: "organisms with remote common ancestors would be expected to differ by many mutations". So obviously one must compare species that split shorter ago with species that split longer ago as in figure 3. And that means compare the horse with pigeon (6 in figure 3) and horse with tuna (5), horse with silkmoth (4),etc. Just the opposite of what Schwabe and Denton did.
  2. The Schwabe-Denton comparison omits the informative differences that support the common descent prediction. So it is not informative to compare the {bacteria} only against {horse,pigeon,tuna,silkmoth,wheat,yeast}-group. It suggests that's the only and the right way to compare species (figure 1). It is true that each of the 6 species split of at different times, but the common ancestor B of the group split from bacteria at only one time in history (A in figure 2). From that moment on the cytochromes of the two groups started to differ and accumulated the same amount of mutations. The data in the Schwabe-Denton diagram are correct (I assume) and in accordance with Common Descent, but incomplete and therefore misleading.
  3. 'The bacterium is the ancestor of the other species' (figure 1). If you do believe that the bacterium is the ancestor of the other species, the comparison seems the only relevant comparison. But of course the bacterium is a living species just as the other 6 species. Maybe it looks like an ancestor, but it cannot be an ancestor. It is not a 2-3 billion-year-old ancestor, but a descendant of a 2-3 billion-year-old ancestor. Maybe this kind of thinking is caused by the fact that bacteria are 'primitive and very old' and that the first life forms must look have looked like a bacterium. Maybe a deep but wrong intuition that 'bacteria ought to have evolved into complex life forms' is involved here. And since they have not evolved into complex organisms, they must be a kind of living fossil, something one imagines the ancestor of all life forms must have looked. But bacteria have a parasitic life style so don't need to be complex to survive.
  4. 'A bacterium looks 'primitive' and seems morphologically frozen in a single-cell state, so its proteins must be freezed too'. Yes, the bacterium still looks 'simple', but it was not stored in a freezer from the moment it originated. That means that its proteins must have accumulated mutations from the moment it separated from the common ancestor A.
Maybe the most revealing omission of Schwabe and Denton in the whole story is the human - chimp cytochrome 'difference': they are 100% identical! (7,8). The first comparisons of cytochrome have been published in 1967 (!) by Walter Fitch and Emmanuel Margoliash and reproduced by Arthur Strahler(1987) (9). Furthermore a search on internet resources easily would have enabled Schwabe to present a more balanced evaluation of cytochrome differences (10,16) That Schwabe, being a scientist, does not mention these data is truly amazing. He seems to be preoccupied with anomalies, and forgets the rest of the data. Is this dishonesty or paradigm-related bias? (11). Finally: are the cytochrome data as presented by Schwabe explained by his own independent origin model? If all cytochromes arose independently then why should there be a constant difference of 64-69% between bacteria and the other species (figure 1)? Independent origin should predict randomly distributed differences with no correlation to taxonomic distance. Schwabe does not even attempt to explain this with his independent origin model. Why should chimp and human have identical cytochromes if they arose independently? Just an accident?

Intermediates: whose problem?

  Schwabe states that Darwinism necessarily predicts intermediates in the fossil record as well as in terms of protein structures, but the intermediates remained elusive. Indeed Darwinism expected intermediates. Nature does not make jumps. Jumps would be miracles. Do jumps in anatomy and morphology exist? This is an empirical and experimental question. The difference of a six-legged fruitfly and a many legged velvet worm (two distantly related groups) seems a big jump. However, as recently has been found small mutations can turn a many legged creature into a six-legged creature (12). So there never can be an intermediate between six-legged and a xx-legged form. So it's pointless to search for such an intermediate. Although it is not demonstrated that no intermediates in general are necessary in evolution, the Darwinian expectations about intermediate forms have to be re-adjusted. This is for example clear from enzyme functions. Major shifts in enzyme function may often require no more than a few changes: To change lactate dehydrogenase into a malate dehydrogenase takes only one amino acid substitution (American Scientist 1998 Jan-Feb). "There is evidence that proteins with de novo functions are more likely to be generated from genetically modified proteins rather than from sequences formed at random (Doolittle, 1981, 1987a)" (13). If Schwabe tried to present a balanced review of the status of neo-Darwinism then he should have mentioned these examples.
   While thinking about these matters it suddenly occurred to me that Schwabe has given no good reasons for the fact that there should be no abundant number of intermediates according to his own model. If genomes are assembled in a random way from pools of nucleotides, then we should expect every possible sequence of DNA, with no gaps. It would be a miracle if only 'the right' genomes originated and nothing more. If we return to the example of the two ten base DNA sequences of the paragraph Schwabe's problems with Molecular Evolution, then we should expect to find 1,048,576 sequences of 10 bases long. More than a million. Where are they? If they are not part of any gene, where are they? This problem is particularly pressing if one indignantly rejects natural selection (as Schwabe does).
   Furthermore, if genomes are assembled in a random way from pools of nucleotides, how do they manage to produce organisms that can be divided so neatly in distinct Linnean systematic groups? In fact the independent origin model should expect all kind of strange intermediate forms. Birds with scales on their bodies like reptiles or hair like animals, and naked birds, and birds with teeth, mammalian birds, birds with photosynthesis, trees with eyes and brains, etc. We do not find them in nature.
    Finally, what is more difficult: to turn a reptile into a mammal; a reptile into a bird (evolution) or to produce a mammal or bird from scratch (independent origin)? Obviously, Independent Origin and Evolution need to solve the same fundamentental observation of biology: Adaptation. It is completely absent in Schwabe's theory.

Senapathy's theory: independent?

  Senapathy(14) is only mentioned once in passing by in Chapter 8, but not discussed. This is a remarkable fact and is odd. One would have expected that both authors would have profited from each other's expertise to strengthen their theory (as happens in normal science). We do find nothing of the sort in the books of Schwabe and Senapathy. Schwabe did publish a paper about his genetic potential hypothesis in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (1984), that is 10 years before Senapathy's book. But I don't know if Senapathy knew this publication. Schwabe is not in the index of Senapathy's book. Is it possible that Senapathy and Schwabe independently invented a nearly identical theory? A wonderful example of Independent Origin!
    There are a number of differences between the two theories. Senapathy rejects the independent origin of prokaryotes, while accepting it for eukaryotes. I did not find this distinction in Schwabe's theory. Schwabe accepts the independent origin of both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, thereby opposing Senapathy. Another difference is Schwabe's 'pro-forms'. Senapathy does not need them, because species seem to originate during a very long geological period in his theory. Thirdly, Senapathy decided that it was too improbable to accept independent origin of closely related species and accepted common descent for those species. I did not found such a thing in Schwabe. Finally, although both claim that genomes are fixed and do change, Senapathy claims more often that genomes are "immutable", while Schwabe more often holds that genomes 'reorganise' themselves during geological history.


  In a 114-page book chemist professor Christian Schwabe claims (1) to have produced data that cannot be explained by Darwinism, and (2) to have produced a better explanation for the origin of species (and the origin of life) than Darwinism does. He (3) restricted the origin of all species to a short period 3.5 billion years ago and (4) when confronted with a fossil record which does not show the existence of all species 3.5 billion years ago, he (5) invented 'pro-forms' which remain in a single cell state during million of years and become only visible at precisely the time required by the fossil record.
Schwabe neither produces positive evidence for 'Pro-forms', nor solves any of the huge biological and geological problems 'pro-forms' cause. Schwabe's alternative pro-forms theory fails because of technical biological reasons, not because of evolution or Darwinism. However, without those 'pro-forms' his theory is seriously incomplete. His Genomic Potential Hypothesis, is vague, speculative and has nothing to do with the new biological discipline called genomics.
    The choice between Schwabe's theory and Darwinism is the choice between million independent origins including babies without mothers, the rejection of mutation, natural selection, the tree of life, the reality of speciation, the reality of genera, families, etc on the one hand, and on the other hand a theory that explains adaptation and the diversity of life in great detail, and is in harmony with all biological disciplines, but which has a number of perceived inconsistencies. When a theory clashes with, and is silent about so many basic biological facts, then the choice is easy. The choice is a theory that explains a maximum of data and has a minimum of anomalies and puzzles. Evolution may have its anomalies and puzzles, and is certainly unfinished, but I prefer it above science fiction. As long as the Genomic Potential Hypothesis is in such a deplorable condition, no biologist has the obligation to disprove it. On the contrary, it is Schwabe's obligation to deliver a theory worth disproving.
    Schwabe is the ultimate dissident. He disagrees with anything and everybody. He doesn't even want to know that he shares a common goal with the origin of life research community (which is distinct from the evolutionary biology community). A common task is that both need to explain the origin of metabolism, membranes, RNA, DNA, the genetic code and how they come together to form life.
    Why bother at all? Schwabe's hypothesis is the only non-creationist, naturalistic alternative to evolution. In the process of trying to make sense of it, it deepened my insight into life and evolution .

Book Contents The Genomic Potential Hypothesis The hardback edition (ISBN 1-58706-044-2) is exceptionally expensive (Amazon: $119; BarnesNoble: $144). In 2002 it was available for free online at Eurekah.com, Landes Bioscience. In 2003 I found out that only the abstracts of each chapter are free. Subscription is now necessary. See contents. I used version of 4.18.01.
This book is my main source for evaluating the Genomic Potential Hypothesis (GPH). The book is somewhat sketchy, not well elaborated. However, this book is the most complete exposition of the GPH. The author should expand the contents, because it's weak at educating the non-specialist reader and he should also educate himself in biological disciplines. In his articles in scientific journals he is more precise and detailed about specific molecular puzzles, but not detailed about his GPH.


I notified Prof. Schwabe of this review and asked for comments. Up to the present Schwabe did not bother to defend his theory. [ Jan 2003 ]

  1. Because of the fundamental chemical freedom to form any sequence.
  2. Christian de Duve in a lecture at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, 8 March 2002. See further his Vital Dust. The Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth (1995), and Life Evolving (2002), paragraph "Is Life the product of chance?", p.54. (Chemistry is deterministic!)
  3. Paul Davies(1999) The Fifth Miracle, Chapter 4, paragraph A code within a code?.
  4. see reviews of Overman(1997), Denton(1998), Dembski(1999) on this site.
  5. if bases have preferences some sequences will occur more frequently, other less frequently.
  6. C. Schwabe, EE Buellesbach(1998) Relaxin and the Fine Structure of Proteins. Springer Verlag.
  7. Douglas Theobald: Evidences for Macroevolution in which cytochrome c is discussed.
  8. Wesley R. Elsberry: Sequences and Common Descent. How We Can Trace Ancestry Through Genetics Last updated: 19990817
  9. Arthur Strahler(1987) Science and Earth History - The Evolution/Creation Controversy, p350 contains a complete matrix of all species comparisons.
  10. Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". Text transcribed from The American Biology Teacher, March 1973 (35:125-129). Contains data that shows Schwabe is selective in his data presentation.
  11. The way the Dayhoff Atlas of Protein Structure and Function presented its cytochrome data (comparing all species with bacteria rhodospirillum) easily misleads readers.
  12. Mike Levine(2002) How insects lose their limbs, Nature, 415, 848-849 (2002) 21 Feb 2002. Matthew Ronshaugen, Nadine McGinnis & William McGinnis: Hox protein mutation and macroevolution of the insect body plan. Nature Vol 415 21 Feb 2002 pp914-917.
  13. Hubert Yockey(1992) Information theory and molecular biology, p329.
  14. P Senapathy(1994) Independent Birth of Organisms. Genome Press, Madison. (review on this site).
  15. Schwabe ignores that Denton recently adopted common descent and evolution: Michael Denton(1998) Nature's Destiny. How The Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose In The Universe (review on this site).
  16. Douglas Theobald(2000): Evidences for Macroevolution. [Molecular clock ticks the same for every species since bacteria cytochrome originated].
  17. Carl Zimmer(2001) Evolution. The Triumph of an Idea, p107 : "Life may descend from a huge primordial menagerie rather than from a single common ancestor". Implications for the genetic code are not discussed!
  18. Senapathy(1994) simply says that the commonness of the code is due to the common pool of genes of the primordial pond (p449), which boils down to the frozen accident hypothesis of Darwinists. [28 Apr 2002]
  19. Bruce Lahn and David Page(1999): Four Evolutionary Strata on the Human X Chromosome, Science 286: 964-967. [14 Jun 2002]
  20. the belly button or navel is the attachment point of the umbilical cord which joined the fetus to the placenta during pregnancy. How does Schwabe explain the belly-button of the first human? Young Earth Creationist Philip Gosse(1857) wrote in Omphalos that Adam was created with a belly-button! (a fake belly-button!). [5 Jun 2002]
  21. Now there is a clear discussion of Denton's ideas in print: two biologists refute Denton's typological theory: Matthew J. Brauer and Daniel R. Brumbaugh: 'Biology Remystified: The Scientific Claims of the New Creationists', p308-314 of Pennock(2002) 'Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics'. [28 Jul 2002]
  22. Theodor Gomperz (1964) The Greek Thinkers. A History of Ancient Philophy. Volume 1, p.292.
  23. Tibor Gánti (2003) The Principles of Life. Gánti excludes evolution from the absolute criteria of life, because the definition must hold for the most simple forms of life. Gánti's analysis of life makes it much easier to solve the origin of life. [19 Mar 2004]
  24. There have been as many as 27 different codon reassignments observed in mitochondrial genomes. Therefore, they all must be considered natural and there is neither one unique natural code, nor a 100% frozen code. [27 Mar 2004]
  25. Stephen J. Freeland and Laurence D. Hurst (2004) Evolution encoded, Scientific American, pp. 56-63. April 2004. Is a very readable article about the genetic code and its evolution. Genetic Code Evolution is the nice and useful website of the Freeland lab. Freeland is a practicing Christian. [25 Apr 2004]
  26. Iris Fry (2000) The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview [7 May 2004]
  27. John Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1999) The Origins of Life, p.55. [7 May 2004]
  28. Stephen J. Freeland A Universal Genetic Code? is a powerful argument against the frozen accident theory. Here is a phylogenetic tree of all non-standard codes. Although Freeland uses the phrase 'multiple origins view of life', he is not arguing against Schwabe, but against creationists. [9 May 04]
  29. Mark Ridley (2003) in Nature 423, 686-687, 12 June 2003. [9 May 04]
  30. Syozo Osawa (1995) "Evolution of the Genetic Code", Oxford University Press. p. 149-150. [20 May 04]
  31. This has everything to do with biological niche construction. See further the topic oxygen on another page. In huamns anaerobic metabolism is only effective for short, intense energy bursts.
  32. Danielle Georges and Christian Schwabe (1999) Porcine relaxin, a 500 million-year-old hormone? The tunicate Ciona intestinalis has porcine relaxin. The FASEB Journal. 1999;13:1269-1275.
  33. email from Martin Hafner [21-10-2005]:
    Dear Dr. Korthof,

    in 1999 Georges Schwabe published the following paper: Georges D, Schwabe C (1999): "Porcine relaxin, a 500 million-year-old hormone? the tunicate Ciona intestinalis has porcine relaxin." (32).
    As in 2002 the Ciona genome became public, I tried to identify the published Schwabe sequence therin, but could not find anything like this. Therefore I wrote the following e-mail to the editor of the FASEB journal:

    2 Dec 2003
    Dear Dr. Marchesi,

    in 1999 Gerorges and Schwabe published a sequence of the sea squirt (Ciona intestinalis) relaxin cDNA in your journal, that was identical to the porcine relaxin cDNA :
    Georges D. and Schwabe C. (1999) : Porcine relaxin, a 500 million-year-old hormone? the tunicate Ciona intestinalis has porcine relaxin. FASEB J; 13(10):1269-75).
    Seemingly, some debate on the accuracy of the published work has taken place, as the editors of the FASEB journal published a comment on the above cited article (The FASEB Journal. 1999;13:2338).
    Recently the Ciona intestinalis genome has been sequenced:
    Dehal P et al. (2002): The draft genome of Ciona intestinalis: insights into chordate and vertebrate origins, Science; 298(5601):2157-67).
    Neither in this article nor in any of the later articles on the Ciona intestinalis genome a tunicate relaxin gene is mentioned. It even can not be found in the list of previously published Ciona genes that could not be identified in the Ciona draft genome sequence (see supplementary material of the Dehal et al. article on the sciencemag.org web site). This may relate to the fact that the sequence printed in the Georges and Schwabe article has never been deposited in Genbank, EMBL or Swissprot databases. I have tried to identify the sequence published by Georges and Schwabe by blasting it against the Ciona genome sequences and Ciona ESTs. All these attempts failed. Thus, it seems unlikely that the Ciona contains a porcine like relaxin gene.
    Dr. Schwabe is citing his FASEB article to corroborate his genomic potential hypothesis of evolution:
    Schwabe C (2002): Genomic potential hypothesis of evolution: a concept of biogenesis in habitable spaces of the universe. Anat Rec; 268(3):171-9) and to establish his hypothesis as an alternative to Darwin's ideas.
    As to my opinion the later is the basis of much of the thinking in modern biology the article of Georges and Schwabe should be reevaluated. Thus, I would appreciate if the editors of the FASEB Journal could invite investigators working with Ciona intestinalis or in the field of genome evolutionary biology to discuss this item publically in their journal.

    Best regards
    Martin Hafner
    Unfortunately I never obtained a reply *).
    Recently a paper by Wilkinson and coworkers appeared in which they reviewed the relaxin family evolution
    Wilkinson TN, Speed TP, Tregear GW, Bathgate RA.: Evolution of the relaxin-like peptide family, BMC Evol Biol. 2005 Feb 12;5(1):14.
    Again, no sign of the Schwabe sequences showed up in the Ciona genome. Thus the Schwabe publication is at least based on the missinterpretation of his data and he can no longer cite his paper as a prove for his Genomic Potential Hypothesis.
    I hope this information will be usefull for your web pages on Dr. Schwabes work. Please do not hesitate to make this mail public.
    Best regards,
    Martin Hafner
    *) Postscript: In the meantime the new Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal, Dr G. Weissmann, has replied [MH]. The paper has been published in FASEB 1 July 2006.

      Further Reading  
  • Eurekah.com, (Evolution) online version of Schwabe's book (only Abstracts of the chapters are free; full-text requires subscription).
  • Landes Bioscience, publisher of paper edition of Schwabe's book.
  • Home page of Professor Christian Schwabe, Medical University of South Carolina.
  • Gert Korthof Independent Birth of Organisms? The Chromosomes Say NO!. A review of Senapathy's book.
  • Gert Korthof Independent Origin and the facts of life is a summary of all technical objections to any theory of 'multiple origins of life'.
  • Tibor Gánti (2003) The Principles of Life (review). This Hungarian chemist published a superior analysis of life and evolution. Highly recommended reading. Typically, for Schwabe the origin of life and species are identical. Although no evolutionist agrees with this, evolutionists don't clearly discriminate between definitions of 'life' and 'evolution' either. [19 Mar 2004]
  • Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan (2002) Acquiring Genomes. A theory of the origin of species (review). Recommended reading. If anything contradicts independent origin then it is Margulis' now well established symbiosis theory.
  • Christian Schwabe (1985) On the basis of the studies of the origins of life. Origins of Life 15 (1985) 213-216. In this article Schwabe argues against the hypothesis that life started with one cell, which he ascribes to evolutionists.
  • Christian Schwabe (2002) "Genomic potential hypothesis of evolution: A concept of biogenesis in habitable spaces of the universe", (Abstract), The Anatomical Record, Volume 268, Issue 3 , Pages 171 - 179 Special Issue: Astrobiology . Published Online: 7 Oct 2002.
  • Christian Schwabe (2004) Chemistry and Biodiversity, Chemistry & Biodiversity Volume 1, Issue 10 , Pages 1584 - 1588. (abstract). The article is followed by "Chemistry and Biodiversity: Darwinism, Evolution, and Speciation. An Opposing View", pages 1588 - 1589, of an anonymous reviewer who does not know the The Genomic Potential Hypothesis and so gives a highly inadequate review of Schwabe's writings. If he knew the GPH, he had rejected it. This report is followed by "Author's reply" on page 1590 (which is Schwabe's reply). All these events are highly unusual for a scientific journal.
  • Martin Hafner and Gert Korthof (2006) Does a "500 million-year-old hormone" disprove Darwin? FASEB Journal. Volume 20, Issue 9; July 2006 pages 1290-1292. [Full Text] [PDF] (subscribers) | nonsubscribers: pdf | [ 03 Jul 06 ]
  • Robert F. Service (2007) 'Resurrected Proteins Reveal Their Surprising History', Science 17 August 2007, Vol. 317. no. 5840, pp. 884 - 885
  • Christian Schwabe (2008) 'Embryotic evolution: An ancient question, a new answer', Cell Cycle, volume 7, issue 11, Pages: 1503 - 1506 , 1 June 2008. Submitted: 04/19/08; Accepted: 04/19/08.
    Please note the language: the words and expressions, and often their meaning as well, differ markedly from usual scientific language, which make the article difficult to understand: 'Anlagen', 'embryotic', 'unfold', 'ripening', 'stem cell evolution', 'phase changes', 'embryos below ground', 'pro-forms', 'metamorphosing', 'converts'.


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Copyright ©G.Korthof 2002. First published: 24 Mar 2002 Updated: 21 Sep 2013 Notes/FR: 2 Jan 2013