The FIFTH MIRACLE: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life
ARE WE ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE?
About the Author(s)
Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist and the bestselling author of more than twenty books. He won the 1995 Templeton Prize for his work on the philosophical meaning of science. His books include About Time, The Mind of God, and God and the New Physics.
Simply Astounding, December 12, 2004
This book is my Science recommendation for 2004. As usual Davies ploughes through a whole whack of cosmic data and implications to look at the question of life: How did it begin? What are the current theories of life? What are the necessary conditions for life forms.
It is interesting to note that all of these questions are pre-evolution questions, since we do not need a mechanism to add, refine or make life more complex — natural selection does that wonderfully — the central question of life is how did it arise in the most simplest of organisms.
In this wonderful read, Davies analyses first the physics of life, entropy, open systems and thermodynamic equilibrium. It is this approach that Davies uses that I find personally so fascinating since it is one that is often ignored by a lot of chemists and biologists, but is it germane — what kind of physical properties are necessary in the universe for life to arise? This is a real good qustion and Davies gives us a good intro tour of the how complexity can arise in an environment which always seems to be striving towards thermodynamic equillibrium.
The second part of the book could be called the biochemical reasons necessary for life. Here Davies looks at elementary organisation and gives us a really good history of the experimentation in this area, from the elementary forces that may be required to bring about nucleotides, proteins and polypeptide strings.
One really interesting thing Davies does is trace back the evolutionary history of organisms and the current data that evolutionary forces were at work for almost 4 billion years. From this he describes ancestors from this time that may still be living on the earth (meso/thermophilic bacteria). A really great way of looking at evolution.
The last chapters sort of synthethise the physics and chemistry parts and look at the implications of the planetary forces, both gradual and catastrophic over the history of the earth and their potential to influence the rise of life and shape the evolutionary forces.
There is a lot of food for thought here and of course no one knows how life started, but it is clear that current theory and evidence are making science more interesting than even before. We may never know as Davies states, but in knowing more and more we are attaining the best goals of mankind.
A wonderful book with science as the only aim.
It should be stated that Davies has no political axe to grind with anyone and his writing is ideologically clean. But let there be no misunderstanding, when in doubt there is no evoking of blind forces in any or Davies books. His passion is science and reason and, like most people who think deeply, he regards the constant state of unknowing as a challenge as a never ending challenge.
For the person who says that Davies is not "open-minded" because he does not consider (notice I did not say believe) that a omnipresent God waved his hand and made us… that is simple. Personal belief has nothing to do with science since it yields nothing of benefit to Science. Even if Davies did personally believe that a God created life, that does not get anyone closer to understanding life… And this is the fundemental point that people who believe in Gods (or as with the current fashion, intelligent design) as ulimate cause fall into — intelligent design, even if right is not science, it cannot be proved. It is a sterile end on the path of unknowing.
Thank God for people like Davies that can remind us that Science alone can yeild truth — that it will never yield all of the truths is the central tenet of Science… and with that there is comfort, because it means that reason, and man advances.
In his latest far-reaching book, The Fifth Miracle, internationally acclaimed physicist and writer Paul Davies confronts one of science’s great outstanding mysteries — the origin of life.
Three and a half billion years ago, Mars resembled Earth. It was warm and wet and could have supported primitive organisms. If life once existed on Mars, might it have originated there and traveled to Earth inside meteorites blasted into space by cosmic impacts?
Davies builds on the latest scientific discoveries and theories to address the larger question: What, exactly, is life? Is it the inevitable by-product of physical laws, as many scientists maintain, or an almost miraculous accident? Are we alone in the universe, or will life emerge on all Earth-like planets? And if there is life elsewhere in the universe, is it preordained to evolve toward greater complexity and intelligence?
On the answers to these deep questions hinges the ultimate purpose of mankind — who we are and what our place might be in the unfolding drama of the cosmos.