A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Graham Cairns-Smith (b. 1931) Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Chemistry Department at the University of Glasgow Web Amazon GBS
Biology has become, quite simply, the study of the causes and effects of evolution, and the question of the origin of life is, first, the question of the origin of evolution. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.1
The optimism persists in many elementary textbooks. There is even, sometimes, a certain boredom with the question; as if it was now merely difficult because of an obscurity of view, a difficulty of knowing now the details of distant historical events.
What a pity if the problem had really become like that! Fortunately it hasn't. It remains a singular case (Sherlock Holmes' favourite kind): far from there being a million ways in detail in which evolution could have got under way, there seems now to have been no obvious way at all. The singular feature is in the gap between the simplest conceivable version of organisms as we know them, and components that the Earth might reasonably have been able to generate. This gap can be seen more clearly now. It is enormous. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.4
Now I cannot deny all these possibilities: life on the Earth may be a miracle, or a freak, or an alien infection. And I agree that the confidence was misplaced that supposed in the fifties that the answer to the origin of life would appear in some footnote to the answer to the question of how organisms work. Something much more will be needed. Something odd. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.8
It may seem hardly surprising that no one has ever actually made a self-reproducing machine, even though Von Neumann laid down the design principles more than 40 years ago. You can imagine a clanking robot moving around a stock-room of raw components (wire, metal plates, blank tapes and so on) choosing the pieces to make another robot like itself. You can show that there is nothing logically impossible about such an idea: that tomorrow morning there could be two clanking robots in the stock-room...(I leave it as a reader' home project to make the detailed engineering drawings.)
There is nothing clanking about E. coli; yet it is such a robot, and it can operate in a stock-room that is furnished with only the simples raw components. Is it any wonder that E. coli's message tape is long? (If you remember the paper equivalent would be about 10 kilometres long.)
Is it any wonder that no free-living organisms have been discovered with message tapes below '2 kilometres'? Is it any wonder that Von Neumann himself, and many others, have found the origin of life to be utterly perplexing?' Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.14-5
Finally, and again casting back to chapter 2, it is not just the sheer size of even the smallest Libraries; it is not just that nucleotide units are rather complex in themselves, and rather difficult to join together (because Nature is on the side of keeping them apart); it is not just the need for enzymes, here, there and everywhere; it is not just that enzymes are of little use unless they have been made properly; it is not just that ribosomes are so very sophisticated -- and look as though they would have to be to do their job; it is not just such questions relating to the particular kind of life that we are familiar with. There seems also to be a more fundamental difficulty. Any conceivable kind of organism would have to contain messages of some sort and equipment for reading and reprinting the messages: any conceivable organism would thus seem to have to be packed with machinery and as such need a miracle (or something) for the first of its kind to have appeared. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.30
There are many thoughtful and knowledgeable people, nowadays, who don't understand the origin of life. This is in spite of a 'big picture' provided by a theory known as 'chemical evolution'. Like the phlogiston theory, 'chemical evolution' looks good from a distance, and there is a common-sense about it. But, to my mind, like the phlogiston theory, it fails to carry through an initial promise: it fails at the more detailed explanations. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.34
I will grant that the path of chemical evolution seems sensible and in the right direction. There are a few obvious puddles to be avoided and some of the flagstones are a bit uneven, perhaps. but there is the promise of an easy walk up to the foothills of the mountain that we can see straight ahead of us. It is a promise that is unfulfilled. The trouble with this path is that it leads us toward, but it does not lead us to expect, a sudden near-vertical cliff-face. Suddenly in our thinking we are faced with the seemingly unequivocal need for a fully working machine of incredible complexity: a machine that has to be complex, it seems, not just to work well but to work at all. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.37
But if we take this as the kind of chance that we are talking about, then we can say that the odds against a successful unguided synthesis of a batch of primed nucleotide on the primitive Earth are similar to the odds against a six coming up every time with 140 throws of a dice. Is that sort of thing too much of a coincidence or not?
There are 6 possible outcomes from throwing a dice once; 6 x 6 from a double throw; 6 x 6 x 6 from a triple throw; and 6 multiplied by itself 140 times from 140 throws. This is a huge number, represented approximately by a 1 followed by 109 zeros (i.e. ~ 10109). This is the sort of number of trials that you would have to make to have a reasonable chance of hitting on the one outcome that represents success. Throwing one dice once a second for the period of the Earth's history would only let you get through about 1015 trials: so you would need about 1094 dice. That is far more than the number of electrons in the observed Universe (estimated at around 1080).
Of course you might argue that in practice a synthesis might be carried through in different ways, and that is true, but remember what generous allowances we made in cutting down the actual amount of sheer skill that organic synthesis requires. And remember too that a manufacturing procedure is not usually very forgiving about arbitrary modifications: it all too easily goes off the rails never to recover. This is especially true of chemical processes, where it is usually not good enough to add the acid at the wrong time or throw away the wrong solution, or even use an ultraviolet lamp of the wrong sort. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.47-8
The bit that is not so clear about the eye -and a favourite challenge to Darwin - is how its components evolved when the whole machine will only work when all the components are there in place and working.
Not that this problem is peculiar to the eye. Organisms are full of such machinery, and it is a widely held view that this appearance of having been designed is the key feature of living things. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (1985) p.58
see also: Stephen Jones
Paul Campos Professor of Law at the University of Colorado Web
Materialism is the view that at bottom reality consists of nothing but particles in fields of force, and that all events are caused solely by the operation of mindless physical laws. Several things should be noted about this belief. First, believing in materialism is an act of faith like any other. The ultimate nature of reality isn't a scientific question, and anyone who expects science to provide answers regarding such matters doesn't understand either science or religion.
Second, the debate about whether the world is ultimately a meaningless flux or something more has been going on for thousands of years. The belief that materialism is a product of post-Enlightenment thought in general and modern science in particular is itself a product of historical ignorance. Materialism's Leap of Faith Rocky Mountain News November 29, 2005
Jun-Yuan Chen Research Professor Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology
In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government, but not Darwin. The Wall Street Journal August 16, 1999
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874--1936) Writer Web Amazon GBS
God condescended to argue with Job, but the last Darwinian will not condescend to argue with you. He will inform you of your ignorance; he will not enlighten your ignorance.
And I will add this point of merely personal experience of humanity: when men have a real explanation they explain it, eagerly and copiously and in common speech, as Huxley freely gave it when he thought he had it. When they have no explanation to offer, they give short dignified replies, disdainful of the ignorance of the multitude. The Illustrated London News July 17 1920 p. 90
The idea of the Missing Link was not at all new with Darwin; it was not invented merely by those vague but imaginative minor poets to whom we owe most of our ideas about evolution. Men had always played about with the idea of a possible link between human and bestial life; and the very existence -- or, if you will, the very non-existence -- of the centaur or the mermaid proves it. All the mythologies had dreamed of a half-human monster. The only objection to the centaur and the mermaid was that they could not be found. In every other respect their merits were of the most solid sort. So it is with the Darwinian ideal of a link between man and the brutes... The Greeks and the Medievals invented monstrosities. But they treated them as monstrosities -- that is, they treated them as exceptions. They did not deduce any law from such lawless things as the centaur or the merman, the griffin or the hippogriff. But modern people did try to make a law out of the Missing Link. They made him a lawgiver, though they were hunting for him like a criminal. They build on the foundation of him before he was found. They made this unknown monster, the mixture of the man and ape, the founder of society and the accepted father of mankind. The ancients had a fancy that there was a mongrel of horse and man, a mongrel of fish and man. But they did not make it the father of anything; they did not ask the mad mongrel to breed. The Uses of Diversity 1921 p. 282-3
The thing that really is trying to tyrannise through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statuettes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen – that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established Church; for the Government will really help it to persecute its heretics. Eugenics and Other Evils 1922 p.76-7
In truth there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don't know it. Fancies and Fads 1923 p.101Man is not merely an evolution but rather a revolution. That he has a backbone or other parts upon a similar pattern to birds and fishes is an obvious fact, whatever be the meaning of the fact. But if we attempt to regard him, as it were, as a quadruped standing on his hind legs, we shall find what follows far more fantastic and subversive than if he were standing on his head. The Everlasting Man 2008 p.7
Francis Collins (b. 1950) Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute Web Amazon GBS
There were long stretches of DNA in between genes that didn't seem to be doing very much; some even referred to these as "junk DNA," though a certain amount of hubris was required for anyone to call any part of the genome "junk," given our level of ignorance. The Language of God (2006) p.111
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) Web GBS
My goal is to find the truth in God's majestic creation.
Jerry Coyne Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago Web Amazon GBS Blog AV
In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture. Of Vice and Men The New Republic April 3 2000 p.27
Truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say. Evolution cannot help us predict what new vaccines to manufacture because microbes evolve unpredictably. But hasn’t evolution helped guide animal and plant breeding? Not very much. Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of ‘like begets like’. Even now, as its practitioners admit, the field of quantitative genetics has been of little value in helping improve varieties. Future advances will almost certainly come from transgenics, which is not based on evolution at all. Nature August 31 2006 p.984
We'll never be able to reconstruct how selection created everything -- evolution happened before we were on the scene, and some things will always be unknown. Why Evolution is True 2009 p.137
These mysteries about how we evolved should not distract us from the indisputable fact that we did evolve. Why Evolution is True 2009 p.208
Now that we've finally sequenced the genomes of both chimp and human, we can see directly that more than 80 percent of all the proteins shared by the two species differ in at least one amino acid. Since our genomes have about 25,000 protein-making genes, that translates to a difference in the sequence of more than 20,000 of them. That's not a trivial divergence. Obviously, more than a few genes distinguish us. And molecular evolutionists have recently found that humans and chimps differ not only in the sequence of genes, but also in the presence of genes. More than 6 percent of genes found in humans simply aren't found in any form in chimpanzees. There are over fourteen hundred novel genes expressed in humans but not in chimps. Why Evolution is True 2009 p.211
True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers.) Seeing and Believing The New Republic February 4 2009 p.33
Gould offered this not as a utopian vision, but as an actual description of why the realms of science and religion do not overlap. As a solution to our perplexity, this is no good. In a spirit of pluralism it ignores the obvious conflicts between them. Gould salvaged his idea by redefining his terms--the old trick, again--writing off creationism as "improper religion" and defining secular sources of ethics, meanings and values as being "fundamentally religious." Seeing and Believing The New Republic February 4 2009 p.38
To see what the faithful actually believe, consider that more than 60 percent of Americans believe in miracles, the virgin birth of Jesus, his divinity and resurrection (Giberson and Miller are among them), the survival of the soul after death, and the existence of Hell and Satan. Regardless of what liberal theologians claim, most of us are not deists or Unitarians. And if you think that Americans see the Bible as mere metaphorical poetry, I invite you to visit a gospel church in Wasilla, Alaska, or on the South Side of Chicago. Seeing and Believing The New Republic February 4 2009 p.39
Why reject the story of creation and Noah's Ark because we know that animals evolved, but nevertheless accept the reality of the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, which are equally at odds with science? After all, biological research suggests the impossibility of human females reproducing asexually, or of anyone reawakening three days after death. Clearly Miller and Giberson, along with many Americans, have some theological views that are not "consistent with science." Seeing and Believing The New Republic February 4 2009 p.39
Unfortunately, some theologians with a deistic bent seem to think that they speak for all the faithful... The reason that many liberal theologians see religion and evolution as harmonious is that they espouse a theology not only alien but unrecognizable as religion to most Americans. Seeing and Believing The New Republic February 4 2009 p.41
This disharmony is a dirty little secret in scientific circles. It is in our personal and professional interest to proclaim that science and religion are perfectly harmonious. After all, we want our grants funded by the government, and our schoolchildren exposed to real science instead of creationism. Liberal religious people have been important allies in our struggle against creationism, and it is not pleasant to alienate them by declaring how we feel. This is why, as a tactical matter, groups such as the National Academy of Sciences claim that religion and science do not conflict. But their main evidence--the existence of religious scientists--is wearing thin as scientists grow ever more vociferous about their lack of faith. Seeing and Believing The New Republic February 4 2009 p.41
I hate to see my colleagues pretending that faith and science live in nonoverlapping magisteria. They know better. Must we always cater to the faithful when teaching science? March 24 2009
The pro-religion stance of the NCSE is offensive and unnecessary — a form of misguided pragmatism. First, it dilutes their mission of spreading Darwinism, by giving credibility to the views of scientists and theologians who are de facto creationists, whether they admit it or not. Second, it departs from their avowed mission to be philosophically neutral. Third, it disingenuously pretends that evolution poses absolutely no threat to faith, or conflicts with faith in any way. Truckling to the Faithful April 22 2009
Well, the Bible wasn’t intended to teach us about science, but it was intended to be an account of where life came from, and it is still read that way by a huge number of Americans. What gives the NCSE the right, or the authority, to suggest how people interpret the Bible? Truckling to the Faithful April 22 2009
The directors of the NCSE are smart people. They know perfectly well -- as did Darwin himself -- that evolutionary biology is and always has been a serious threat to faith. But try to find one acknowledgment of this incompatibility on their website. No, all you’ll find there is sweetness and light. Indeed, far from being a threat to faith, evolution seems to reinforce it! Is it disingenuous to be a personal atheist, as some NCSE officials are, and yet tell others that their faith is compatible with science? I don’t know. But the NCSE’s pragmatism has taken it far outside its mandate. Their guiding strategy seems to be keep Darwin in the schools by all means necessary. Truckling to the Faithful April 22 2009
It is indeed illegal, as it should be, to teach in the public schools that evolution—or science in general—implies that “God does not exist.” (I believe that this is a reasonable conclusion from science, which implies that certain types of Gods do not exist, but I never mention it in class.) But teaching science is not the same thing as explicitly teaching atheism. If students want to draw a conclusion from the palpable facts about the world, so be it. The purpose of science classes is to teach science, not religion or anti-religion, but it’s not our place, as teachers, to prevent students from thinking outside of class. Some students may become atheists after learning about evolution, while others may simply, like BioLogos, incorporate the science into their existing faith. Not everyone agrees with the proposition that science implies that God doesn’t exist. But even if they did, that’s no reason to kick science out of the public schools. Why Evolution is True December 23 2010 see also: VJ Torley
Francis Crick (1916–2004) Co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, Nobel laureate 1962, Professor at the Salk Institute Web Amazon GBS AV
To produce this miracle of molecular construction all the cell need do is to string together the amino acids (which make up the polypeptide chain) in the correct order. This is a complicated biochemical process, a molecular assembly line, using instructions in the form of a nucleic acid tape (the so-called messenger RNA) which will be described in outline in Chapter 5. Here we need only ask, how many possible proteins are there? If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how rare of an event would that be?
This is an easy exercise in combinatorials. Suppose the chain is about two hundred amino acids long; this is, if anything, rather less than the average length of proteins of all types. Since we have just twenty possibilities at each place, the number of possibilities is twenty multiplied by itself some two hundred times. This is conveniently written 20200 and is approximately equal to 10260, that is a one followed by 260 zeros!
This number is quite beyond our everyday comprehension. For comparison, consider the number of fundamental particles (atoms, speaking loosely) in the entire visible universe, not just in our own galaxy with its 1011 stars, but in all the billions of galaxies, out to the limits of observable space. This number, which is estimated to be 1080, is quite paltry by comparison to 10260. Moreover, we have only considered a polypeptide chain of a rather modest length. Had we considered longer ones as well, the figure would have been even more immense. Life Itself (1981) p. 51-52.
An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. Life Itself (1981) p.88
Every time I write a paper on the origin of life, I determine I will never write another one, because there is too much speculation running after too few facts. Life Itself (1981) p.153
I have no doubt, as will emerge later, that this loss of faith in Christian religion and my growing attachment to science plays a dominant part in my scientific career, not so much on a day-to-day basis but in the choice of what I have considered interesting and important. What Mad Pursuit (1988) p.11
Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved. It might be thought, therefore, that evolutionary arguments would play a large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case. It is difficult enough to study what is happening now. To figure out exactly what happened in evolution is even more difficult. Thus evolutionary achievements can be used as hints to suggest possible lines of research, but it is highly dangerous to trust them too much. What Mad Pursuit (1988) pp.138-139
Michael Crichton (1942- 2008) Web Amazon GBS
I sometimes think scientists really don't notice that their colleagues have flaws. But in my experience scientists are very human people: which means that some are troubled, deceitful, petty or vain. Science views Media January 25 1999
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn't. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia. Why Speculate April 26 2002
Most areas of intellectual life have discovered the virtues of speculation, and have embraced them wildly. In academia, speculation is usually dignified as theory. Why Speculate April 26 2002
A wonderful area for speculative academic work is the unknowable. These days religious subjects are in disfavor, but there are still plenty of good topics. The nature of consciousness, the workings of the brain, the origin of aggression, the origin of language, the origin of life on earth, SETI and life on other worlds...this is all great stuff. Wonderful stuff. You can argue it interminably. But it can't be contradicted, because nobody knows the answer to any of these topics. Why Speculate April 26 2002
I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan's memorable phrase, "a candle in a demon haunted world." And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. Aliens Cause Global Warming January 17 2003
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.
Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period. Aliens Cause Global Warming January 17 2003
Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way. Aliens Cause Global Warming January 17 2003
And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science-or non-science-is the hand maiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established. Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who won't get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and "skeptics" in quotation marks-suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nut-cases. In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done. Aliens Cause Global Warming January 17 2003
This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Aliens Cause Global Warming January 17 2003
In recent years, much has been said about the post-modernist claims about science to the effect that science is just another form of raw power, tricked out in special claims for truth-seeking and objectivity that really have no basis in fact. Science, we are told, is no better than any other undertaking. These ideas anger many scientists, and they anger me. But recent events have made me wonder if they are correct. Aliens Cause Global Warming January 17 2003
We can take as an example the scientific reception accorded a Danish statistician, Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist...The scientific community responded in a way that can only be described as disgraceful. In professional literature, it was complained he had no standing because he was not an earth scientist. His publisher, Cambridge University Press, was attacked with cries that the editor should be fired, and that all right-thinking scientists should shun the press... But what are scientists doing attacking a press? Is this the new McCarthyism-coming from scientists?...Worst of all was the behavior of the Scientific American, which seemed intent on proving the post-modernist point that it was all about power, not facts... It was a poor display, featuring vicious ad hominem attacks, including comparing him to a Holocaust denier. The issue was captioned: "Science defends itself against the Skeptical Environmentalist." Really. Science has to defend itself? Is this what we have come to?...Further attacks since, have made it clear what is going on. Lomborg is charged with heresy. That's why none of his critics needs to substantiate their attacks in any detail. That's why the facts don't matter. That's why they can attack him in the most vicious personal terms. He's a heretic. Aliens Cause Global Warming January 17 2003
I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people---the best people, the most enlightened people---do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious. Environmentalism as a Religion September 23 2003
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Home Evolution Stephen Jones