Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quote of the Day: "A Fluke of Fortune Bordering on the Unbelievable"

Scientists, science publications, and a science-minded Ball blogger have praised a new book by Dr. Nick Lane, "Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution". (Profile/Norton 2009).

Words used include "awe-inspiring", "exhilarating", and "should be read by all biology students and their professors".

A New Scientist reviewer says, "The first two chapters are the most coherent and convincing summaries of the dawn of life and of DNA that I have ever read."

A couple of quotes gleaned by Jonathan McLatchie of the Discovery Institute (boo, hiss!) relate to the issue of darwinian/theistic/intelligent design:

"Short of positing celestial design, the only way to explain optimization is via the workings of selection. If so, the code of life must have evolved."

Following this "must-have evolved" line of neo-darwinian inquiry to consider the origin of DNA biosynthesis, Dr. Lane concludes:

... in a fluke of fortune bordering on the unbelievable, it might be that both the bacteria and archaea emerged from the very same hydrothermal mound. Little else could explain the fact that they share the same genetic code, as well as many details of protein synthesis, but apparently only learnt to replicate their DNA later on, totally independently. For while DNA and the genetic code certainly evolved only once, DNA replication - the physical mechanism of inheritance in all living cells - apparently evolved twice."

When a book's best shot on the origin of DNA biosynthesis employs the phrase, "a fluke of fortune bordering on the unbelievable",  and this book is given highest praise by the scientific community, isn't it reasonable to conclude that there is room to consider the adequacy of the mindless, purposeless, seamless chemical-biological darwinian scenario to adequately and fully explain the origins of life and species?

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For the record, here are of the commendations found on Dr. Lane's website from scientists and science-related periodicals:

"What makes this such a great read is that Lane, a biochemist by training, does not simply rehash the standard evolutionary tales - unlike many books published recently. Instead, he is familiar with all the latest research and has made up his own mind about who is right. The result is an original and awe-inspiring account. The first two chapters are the most coherent and convincing summaries of the dawn of life and of DNA that I have ever read... This is an exhilarating tour of some of the most profound and important ideas in biology. Anyone interested in life should read it. Highly recommended." Michael Le Page, NEW SCIENTIST

"Excellent and imaginative... full of surprises... Life Ascending is a fascinating book for anyone interested in life and evolution." Lewis Wolpert, NATURE

"Lane is that particularly rare breed: a scientist who can not only offer a birds-eye view of an entire field but also tell you about his own very interesting ideas." Carl Zimmer, SCIENCE

"Comes closer to achieving [my dream popular science book] than any other book I have read... Bravo, Nick Lane! John Cheverton, THE BIOLOGIST

"Make no bones about it, this is an excellent book. It is great fun, readable, bubbling over with enthusiasm, and not afraid of controversial, even weird, ideas... Hopeless as a bedside book: you'd never sleep." Graham Cairns-Smith, CHEMISTRY WORLD

"A writer who's not afraid to think big - and think hard." Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics

"Nick Lane comes closer to achieving [my dream popular science book] than any other book I have read. From the first sentence he writes with a sense of wide-eyed wonder that (almost) always keeps its feet firmly on the facts... highly recommended as an update and tonic for any biologist who has lost touch with the subject’s excitement: bravo, Nick Lane!"John Cheverton, THE BIOLOGIST

"Extremely well written... It should be read by all biology students and their professors. I have just concluded reading it, and despite having studied biology for about six decades I have learnt a lot from it."Lars Olof Björn, INTEGRATIVE AND COMPARATIVE BIOLOGY

"Life Ascending really is beautifully written, and Lane has a true flair for scientific story telling... uttery gripping." Lewis Dartnell, ASTROBIOLOGY SOCIETY OF BRITAIN

And here's what journals and newspapers have said about it:

"This is a science book that doesn't cheat: the structure is logical, the writing is witty, and the hard questions are tackled head on." Tim Radford, THE GUARDIAN

"Wonderful... Lane does a masterful job... an elegant, fully satisfying whole." Starred Review, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"A clever concept is carried through with a clarity and enthusiasm that belies the sophistication of the science.." GUARDIAN SUMMER READING

"It will blow your bloody mind… A series of lucid and logical explanations of the sublime intricacies and mechanics of biological evolution… blissful epiphanies on every page.” Giles Broadbent, WHARF

"An amazing scientist." Don Braben, TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION

"Nick Lane's examination of the brilliance of evolution isn't as thunderous as Richard Dawkins' last book but in a strange way that makes it all the more fascinating… Lane provides a thought-provoking account of how inspirational life really is." SHORTLIST MAGAZINE

"The book is, in the tradition of the best science writing, an ommateum (a compound vision) of the interconnectedness of everything in the world, as befits a poet who just happens to be extremely well-versed in physics, geology, and biochemistry. Lane tells a scientists tale in a way that adds to his reader’s sense of radical amazement.... It is literate and witty and one of my favorite science books of the past few years." Wayne Mones, AUDUBON MAGAZINE

"Ambitious and stimulating... Captures the excitement of science in action, with its mysteries, questions and conflicts... exhilarating." Margaret Quamme, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH (Ohio)

"Lane lays out processes of dizzying complexity in smooth, nimble prose." KIRKUS REVIEWS

"Ambitious... a fascinating and provocative scientific book for the layperson." LIBRARY JOURNAL

"Explores many of the most important questions in biology... Nick Lane is clear and concise in his writing, delivering concepts and ideas with ease and enthusiasm." HOW IT WORKS


"With clarity and vigor... Lane smoothly pulls in evidence to show how the critical components and mechanisms of complex life could have developed." NEW YORK TIMES

"This is a science book that doesn't cheat: the structure is logical, the writing is witty, and the hard questions are tackled head on." Tim Radford, THE GUARDIAN

"Comes closer to achieving [my dream popular science book] than any other book I have read... Bravo, Nick Lane! John Cheverton, THE BIOLOGIST

"An amazing scientist." Don Braben, TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION

"With clarity and vigor... Lane smoothly pulls in evidence from genetics, proteomics, paleontology and geophysics to show how the critical components and mechanisms of complex life could have developed. Peter Dizikes NEW YORK TIMES

6 comments:

xn--hrfn-woa said...

"When a book's best shot on the origin of DNA biosynthesis employs the phrase, "a fluke of fortune bordering on the unbelievable", and this book is given highest praise by the scientific community, isn't it reasonable to conclude that there is room to consider the adequacy of the mindless, purposeless, seamless chemical-biological darwinian scenario to adequately and fully explain the origins of life and species?"

There are at least two problems with that argument:

1) It is a statistical fact that, given enough time (say a few billion years) and enough places (say a whole planet), that "a fluke of fortune bordering on the unbelievable" eventually happens isn't actually that improbable.

2) The "adequacy" of the alternative has to be evaluated, and that at some unknown time and unknown place an unknown intelligence (for which we have no factual evidence prior to humanity's existence) did some unknown action, is grossly inadequate.

Joe said...

"given enough time (say a few billion years) and enough places (say a whole planet)"

Which we are not. We are not given by any natural phenomena known to mankind enough time or enough places.

There is no logical explanation of the Big Bang. So given the impossibility of 'natural' existence and combine that with the extremely low probability of the formation of DNA and the mere fact the the existence of DNA does not explain life, after all DNA exists in dead carcasses. Now consider that each life form is dependent on other life forms for its existence, The Darwinian model looks weaker and weaker all the time.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

"Which we are not. We are not given by any natural phenomena known to mankind enough time or enough places."

Please provide detailed calculations to support this claim.

"There is no logical explanation of the Big Bang. So given the impossibility of 'natural' existence..."

(i) I dispute the assertion that there is "no logical explanation of the Big Bang". The work of Cosmologists appears to give substantial (if still incomplete) explanation.

(ii) Even if something is not 'logically explained', does not mean that it did not happen.

"...the mere fact the the existence of DNA does not explain life, after all DNA exists in dead carcasses."

You can also have a glass of milk without a cow being in sight -- that does not mean that cows and lactation is not a good explanation of milk. Your argument is flawed.

"Now consider that each life form is dependent on other life forms for its existence, The Darwinian model looks weaker and weaker all the time."

now consider that we know that most lifeforms evolved from more primitive ones. That leads to the conclusion that life may have originally developed from a very simple and primitive lifeform, sufficiently simple and primitive that it may have developed from self-organisation, given (i) a collection of suitable components, (ii) a flow of usable energy through the system & (iii) local coupling mechanisms. Much of Abiogenesis research concentrates on the juxtaposition of these three essential factors.

jonathan said...

xn--hrfn-woa:

That was perfectly stated.

Joe said...

xn--hrfn-woa I hope you realize that every one of your arguments can be used in the defense of ID.

My point is not to deny the Big Bang but rather to show that there is no natural reason for it to occur. Therefore logic would tell you that something beyond the natural world as we know it caused the Big Bang.

As for DNA my point was that even assuming that it were possible given enough time and places that DNA would occur naturally it still would not bring that DNA to life. DNA is inert without life. The DNA in the dead squirrel on the road can not repair the dead squirrel and bring it back to life. It might be possible to take that DNA, put it in a living cell and clone the dead squirrel but first you need the living cell.

I know you love to believe that 'advanced' species evolved from more primitive species but that is not what the fossil records show. The fossil records would indicate that life on earth changed by huge leaps not slow evolution. That pattern might indicate an intelligent designer's handiwork but would seemingly rule out random chance.

xn--hrfn-woa said...

"xn--hrfn-woa I hope you realize that every one of your arguments can be used in the defense of ID."

No they cannot. My arguments rely on the existence of detailed scientific explanations of the facts. ID provides no detailed explanations (and no explanation at all, beyond the vacuous 'an unknown designer did something unknown at an unknown place and an unknown time).

"My point is not to deny the Big Bang but rather to show that there is no natural reason for it to occur."

And my point was that there is in fact considerable scientific explanation of the Big Bang.

"As for DNA my point was that even assuming that it were possible given enough time and places that DNA would occur naturally it still would not bring that DNA to life."

Then you are clearly ignorant of Abiogenesis research, which looks at more primitive forms of self-organisation (aka very primitive life), prior to the development of DNA -- most particularly the 'RNA world' hypothesis.

"I know you love to believe that 'advanced' species evolved from more primitive species but that is not what the fossil records show. The fossil records would indicate that life on earth changed by huge leaps not slow evolution."

This is quite simply false. Although the fossil record of the earliest lifeforms are necessarily spotty (least amount of hard body parts to be preserved, most 'over-writing' by later upheavals), there is still a wealth of fossil evidence demonstrating that your "huge leaps" were 'slow fuses' occurring over tens of millions of years, not 'explosions' as some thought. Thereafter the fossil record becomes even more blatantly gradualistic.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"