Marcos Eberlin's new book, "Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose"

Over at Evolution News, David Klinghoffer has written a brief article highlighting excerpts from a new book by the award-winning Brazilian chemist, Professor Marcos Eberlin, founder of the Thomson Mass Spectrometry Laboratory, titled, Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose. Foresight carries endorsements from three Nobel Prize-winning scientists: Sir John B. Gurdon (Physiology or Medicine, 2012), Gerhard Ertl (Chemistry, 2007), and Brian D. Josephson (Physics, 1973). The official launch of the book, which is already available on Amazon, will be held in Seattle on Tuesday, May 7, at the Woodland Park Zoo, at 7:30 pm. Professor Eberlin will be giving a talk at the event.

Here’s the nub of Eberlin’s case:

In case after case, he argues that life purposefully devised “solutions that anticipated problems before they arose,” a sure “hallmark of mind.” The unintelligent Darwinian process lacks the capacity for such engineering but so do other “alternative evolutionary proposals” (neutral evolution, evolutionary developmental biology, natural genetic engineering, a hypothetical multiverse, and other popular proposals)…

Only intelligent design stands as a theory capable of explaining, for example, the ingenious invention, the cell membrane, that keeps every living cell both sealed against and selectively open to its environment. No cell could live a moment without this remarkable feat of engineering. It must have been present in the first cell.

This is the refrain of the book: “It is all or death!” “All or nothing!” Half-solutions are no solutions at all. As just one example, again drawn from his discussion of the cell membrane, “A successful water gate…poses an ‘all or nothing’ challenge for life. Foresee the need for these exquisitely precise water gates and somehow engineer them for just-in-time delivery, or the grand start-up called life quickly goes bust.”

Has anyone ordered the book? (It’s available on Kindle for less than $8.) What do people think of its central argument about the need for foresight in the unfolding history of life? And what do people think of Professor Eberlin’s claim that cell membranes must have been designed?

For those who are interested, Professor Eberlin has previously debated Fábio Raposo do Amaral, professor of biology at the Federal University of São Paulo, a public university in Brazil, on the subject of Intelligent Design.



Thanks Vincent. I will look at the debate. It sounds like more chicken and egg evidence that make life forming gradually from simple replicators a really challenging proposal.


Dr. Lents, have you heard about Marcos Eberlin’s latest book? What are your impressions of it?

FYI, Professor Eberlin has published a brief article titled, The Chicken-and-Egg Problem is Everywhere in Biology, summarizing the essence of his case. Thoughts? @swamidass, would you care to comment?

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From the article:

Is the author aware that the bird ancestors of chickens also laid eggs?

I guess the author is also unaware of fish and amphibians who lay eggs that have no shell.

If the author can’t understand even a simple example of how functionality builds up over time, what does that say about the rest of his reasoning?


No, I hadn’t and it’s pretty doubtful that it will get any attention from the scientific community because these supposed challenges have been addressed ad nauseam. I just read the short article and there’s certainly nothing we haven’t already heard (and answered) in there. Seems to be even less informed than previous attempts actually. On the design of membranes, that seems particularly ill-informed considering that the evolution of membranes and protobionts has not just been modeled but tested empirically.

Here is something non-technical that I wrote a couple years ago:

That’s the second of a two-part series, so you may want to read the first part first, but that ^ is the one in which we discuss lipid membranes.



Somewhat ironically considering recent discussions around here, the work of Jack Szostak has been rather instrumental in elucidating the possible early stages in the evolution of the cell membrane, including what selective pressures could have facilitated the transition from plausible prebiotic fatty acids to modern phospholipid membranes.

Mansy SS, Schrum JP, Krishnamurthy M, Tobé S, Treco DA, Szostak JW.
Template-directed synthesis of a genetic polymer in a model protocell. Nature.
2008 Jul 3;454(7200):122-5. doi: 10.1038/nature07018

Budin I, Szostak JW. Physical effects underlying the transition from primitive
to modern cell membranes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 29;108(13):5249-54.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1100498108

Adamala KP, Engelhart AE, Szostak JW. Collaboration between primitive cell
membranes and soluble catalysts. Nat Commun. 2016 Mar 21;7:11041. doi:

Engelhart AE, Adamala KP, Szostak JW. A simple physical mechanism enables
homeostasis in primitive cells. Nat Chem. 2016 May;8(5):448-53. doi:

Work by other groups have corroborated similar phenomena:

Black RA, Blosser MC. A Self-Assembled Aggregate Composed of a Fatty Acid Membrane and the Building Blocks of Biological Polymers Provides a First Step in the Emergence of Protocells. Life (Basel). 2016 Aug 11;6(3). pii: E33. doi:

These articles are all well worth reading if you’re interested in understanding how primitive cells could have functioned without modern phospholipid membranes and complicated transport proteins, and they really do document experiments showing that these physical mechanisms work.

People who say there’s no progress in origin of life research are LIARS.

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Yes, this is the work I was referring to and that I cover in the module I link to above.

…or deeply mis- or under-informed. Either way, they are very wrong and therefore entirely dismissible in this conversation. In order to effectively critique something (origins of life research), one must first be fully educated about it.


Hi @NLENTS, @T_aquaticus and @Rumraket,

Thank you very much for your helpful explanatory comments, and for the excellent articles you’ve dug up. Re Marcos Eberlin’s article on the problem of the chicken and the egg, I just came across this:

Which came first - the chicken or the egg?

Dr. Eberlin also writes that common descent does not mean blind evolution. However, it is difficult to envisage the loss of a feature which an intelligent, foresighted, designer would have retained as being due to anything other than a blind process. Dr. Lents has discussed some of these features in a popular article of his, which Dr. Eberlin would do well to read.

Thank you all once again.


It’s quite easy to find examples of a lack of foresight. For example, fish should have been laying eggs with shells before the emergence of tetrapods so that tetrapods could have conquered arid land from the start. Instead, amniotes had to evolve new features after they crawled up on land just to move out further.

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One can find such examples in all kinds of designed things: computer programs, cars (e.g., Ford Pinto), lawn mowers, teapots (ever had a teapot that didn’t drip?) and so on. That doesn’t prove that such things aren’t designed. The lack of perfect design doesn’t establish the lack of any design at all.

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So I don’t think the “poor design” argument works. But not for the reason you listed. These are all examples of things created by human beings. Not an all powerful and all knowing being.


You’re changing the subject. Since the claim under question is “foresight”, then examples proving a lack of foresight are contra-indicatory to the claim being made.


Since you haven’t even read the book that is under discussion, you don’t know exactly what its claim is. You don’t, for example, that it claims that everything is the product of foresight. But it’s nothing new for you to jump in criticizing books and authors you haven’t read.

That’s true; but it sounds as if you have some a priori conception of what an all powerful and all knowing being would create, and are measuring the productions of nature against that conception. The question is whether your a priori conception is in fact a Biblical one, or some extra-Biblical theological conception.

I don’t need to have read the book to know it’s main claim, which is not only in the actual title but explained in the original post and the linked article. I note you haven’t actually tried to contradict what I wrote.

Examples please.

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You implicitly criticized the Wagners, Newman, etc. as if their thoughts about evolutionary mechanism were worthless departures from mainstream evolutionary biology, by dismissing my references to them. I doubt you’ve read anything by any of them. But if I’m wrong, tell me what you have read, and why you think it’s insignificant to modern evolutionary theory. But not here -do it on the other thread where we were discussing them. Let’s stick to Eberlin on this one.

Implicitly! Is that the best you can do? So when I criticize your comments, I’m actually “implicitly criticizing” random people you may or may not have actually read? Fascinating! Examples please.

You’re making the claim, the onus is on you to present the evidence. I can’t present evidence of something I’ve never done.

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No, not when you criticize my comments; when you treat active, competent, respected evolutionary theorists as if their views were negligible garbage.

Still waiting for all those examples.

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Newman and the two Wagners. I cited them to Chris as bona fide evolutionary theorists who had expressed disagreement with some other contemporary evolutionary theorists regarding mechanisms for the origin of novel organismal form. You dismissed my whole line of discussion, implying either (a) that those authors were not bona fide evolutionary theorists and therefore “don’t count”; or (b) they they were bona fide evolutionary theorists, but didn’t mean what I thought they meant. If you meant the first, you’re utterly uninformed about current evolutionary theorists; and if you meant the second, you can’t justify holding that view unless you’ve read them. And since you didn’t discuss passages of their work to show me I had misinterpreted them, I conclude that you haven’t read them. If I’m wrong, tell me which of their works you have read, and where I have misunderstood their statements expressing disagreement with their colleagues. And if I’m right, admit that you haven’t read them and that you therefore can’t say whether or not I’ve interpreted them rightly.