The Great Debate – What is Life? (ASU Origins Project and TSN)

Source: http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/the-great-debate-what-is-life

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Richard Dawkins, J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureates Sidney Altman and Leland Hartwell, Chris McKay, Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss, and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham discuss the origins of life, the possibility of finding life elsewhere, and the latest development in synthetic biology. More than 2500 people filled ASU Gammage Auditorium on Saturday, February 12 to listen to this remarkable collection of scientists whose particular perspectives range from the cosmic to the microscopic. “The Great Debate: What is Life?” was sponsored by the ASU Origins Project in partnership with the Science Network, J. Epstein Foundation and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. The evening followed on the heels of its successful inaugural debate in November 2010, “The Great Debate – Can science tell us right from wrong?”.

 

The Great Debate – What is Life?

The Great Debate - What is Life?

Panel discussion

February 12, 2011
Speakers: Richard Dawkins, J Craig Venter, Sydney Altman, Lee Hartwell, Paul Davies,Chris McKay, Lawrence Krauss, Roger Bingham
Run Time: 42 minutes

Richard Dawkins, J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureates Sidney Altman and Leland Hartwell, Chris McKay, Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss, and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham discuss the origins of life, the possibility of finding life elsewhere, and the latest development in synthetic biology.

Richard Dawkins with an introduction by Roger Bingham

Richard Dawkins with an introduction by Roger Bingham

The Great Debate – What is Life?

February 12, 2011
Speakers: Richard Dawkins, Roger Bingham
Run Time: 10 minutes

Speaker: Richard Dawkins is a renowned evolutionary biologist and author. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and was the inaugural holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His first book, The Selfish Gene, was an international bestseller and is now a classic work of modern evolutionary biology. His other books include The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Ancestor’s Tale, and The God Delusion.

Talk: Explains the key characteristic of life, which he intuitively believes to be universal to all possible life, i.e. the ability to not only replicate but to pass information about itself to the next generation.

Sidney Altman

Sidney Altman

The Great Debate – What is Life?

February 12, 2011
Speakers: Sidney Altman
Run Time: 14 minutes

Speaker: Sidney Altman is the Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology at Yale University and an Origins Project Distinguished Visiting Professor at Arizona State University. He won the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discoveries concerning the catalytic properties of RNA. His discoveries opened up new fields of scientific research and biotechnology and caused scientists to rethink old theories of how cells function. They also led to new hypotheses about the emergence of RNA on Earth and the possibility that RNA was the molecule that gave rise to the Earth’s first life forms.

Talk: Discusses the RNA-World hypothesis which is supposed to be the precursor to the DNA-World.

Lee Hartwell

Lee Hartwell

The Great Debate – What is Life?

February 12, 2011
Speakers: Lee Hartwell
Run Time: 08 minutes

Speaker: Lee Hartwell won the 2001 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for discoveries related to the genetics of cell division. His discovery demonstrated the unity of all life and has significantly impacted cancer research. A former president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Hartwell now directs the Center for Sustainable Health at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and is Virginia G. Piper Chair of Personalized Medicine.

Talk: If we can’t define life, how we can look for it elsewhere in the universe? Lee says that other life forms may function differently (metabolism, reproduction etc.), may have non-carbon based chemistry and may not use water but still they will have certain inevitable characteristics like abundance of specific

Chris McKay

Chris McKay

The Great Debate – What is Life?

February 12, 2011
Speakers: Chris McKay
Run Time: 10 minutes

Speaker: Chris McKay is a planetary scientist with the Space Science Division of the NASA Ames Research Center and is one of the world’s leading experts on Titan. His broader interests focus on understanding the relationship between the chemical and physical evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He has been actively involved in planning for future Mars missions including human settlements.

Talk: What are the places within our solar system we are currently exploring for life? These are the places where we have evidence of water (though life may evolve in other solvents also). Discusses ‘The Lego Principle’ i.e. life made up of small building blocks. Therefore, life generates a different distribution of molecule then what we get out of a Miller-Urey synthesis or meteorites.

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J. Craig Venter

J. Craig Venter

The Great Debate – What is Life?

February 12, 2011
Speakers: J. Craig Venter
Run Time: 11 minutes

Speaker: J. Craig Venter is the Founder, Chairman and President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) a not-for-profit research and support organization dedicated to human, microbial, plant and environmental genomic research, the exploration of social and ethical issues in genomics, and seeking alternative energy solutions through genomics. In May 2010 the J. Craig Venter Institute published results describing the successful construction of what has been described as the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell. Dr. Venter is also Co-Founder, Chairman, CEO, and Co-Chief Scientific Officer of Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately held company founded in 2005, is dedicated to developing and commercializing genomic-driven solutions to address global energy and environment challenges.

Talk: Discuss the great breakthrough by his team to replace DNA of a living cell with a synthetic one.

Paul Davies

Paul Davies

The Great Debate – What is Life?

February 12, 2011
Speakers: Paul Davies
Run Time: 12 minutes

Speaker: Paul Davies is College Professor in the Department of Physics and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University. He helped create the theory of quantum fields in curved spacetime, and currently champions the theory that Earth may host a shadow biosphere of alternative life. His newest book is The Eerie Silence. He has won numerous awards including the 1995 Templeton Prize.

Talk: Discusses that all life on earth that we know belongs to the same tree of life. There could be life on earth which belongs to a different tree, may be living in some extreme environment or even overlapping with the microbial world but unexplored yet. Paul Davies claims that if there exists any life from a different tree, we would be able to find it within next 10 years.

Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss

The Great Debate – What is Life?

February 12, 2011
Speakers: Lawrence Krauss
Run Time: 11 minutes

Speaker:

Lawrence Krauss is Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University. He is the only physicist to have received the highest awards from all 3 major US professional physics societies. His publications include The Physics of Star Trek, Quintessence, and Atom, and the newly released Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science.

Talk: Discusses the difficulty in defining life. Life replicates but even forest fires does that.

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Kelvin’s conundrum: Is it possible to believe in God and science?

Kelvin believed science must be treated with reverence, as he explained:

“I have long felt that there was a general impression that the scientific world believes science has discovered ways of explaining all the facts of nature without adopting any definite belief in a Creator. I have never doubted that impression was utterly groundless.

“The more thoroughly I conduct scientific research, the more I believe science excludes atheism. If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all religion.”

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Kelvin strongly opposed Darwin’s evolutionary theories of natural selection believing Darwin ignored evidence of God’s design in creation, and he refused to believe that atoms of dead matter could ever come together to make life. The laws of thermodynamics (how energy is derived from heat) were, to him, a sure sign of intelligent design.

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Lennox, who has engaged in a number of debates with Richard Dawkins, believes that far from being at odds with science, the Christian faith actually makes perfect scientific sense.

“For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws only reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine creative force at work. One of the fundamental themes of Christianity is that the universe was built according to a rational, intelligent design.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/24535331

Human Evolution

I have been reading about Human Evolution for some time now. In this blog I will share some thoughts on the topic.

I have read some books on the subject like ‘Selfish Genes’ by Richard Dawkins and Darwin’s Origin of Species. Also read ‘The Language of God’ by Francis Collins. Before that I had been reading books by Harun Yahya on this topic. The last book I read was ‘Quran and Human Evolution’ by Dr. Ahmed Afzaal.

Richard Dawkins is probably the most famous contemporary evolutionist. His book ‘Selfish Gene’ is considered by some scholars as the best modern scientific explanation of how humans evolved from lower life forms. He is a proponent of gene-centric view of biological evolution. Apart from being a biologist, he calls himself a militant atheist; militant because he is very vocal about being atheist and also preaches it, urging others to relinquish faith too. I read his another best-seller book ‘The God Delusion’ in which he asserts how theory of evolution explains everything and it refutes the idea of God.

Harun Yahya is other side of the coin. He rejects the theory absolutely. He has produced a huge wealth of material on this topic including high quality documentaries and large collection of books. Besides pointing out gaps in the theory of evolution, he also wrote about the historical disasters this theory has brought to humankind. How racism got a boost as people started thinking that they are more evolved then others, hence a better race. Harun Yahya also pointed out that evolution has now taken a form of religion, citing the cases where scientist deliberately tempered with the fossils to prove evolution.

Now, Francis Collins, he is a believing Christian and a biologist, who was the head of Human Genome project. The purpose of the project was to map of all genes in Human DNA. I read his book ‘The Language of God’, again a best-seller. He theorizes that humans have evolved from lower life forms but it is God who started the process of evolution and He has control over it. Dr. Ahmed Afzaal in his book ‘Quran and Human Evolution’ also presents a similar point of view.

So there are three distinct point of views on Human Evolution:

  1. God created us and all other life forms individually, separate from each other.
  2. All life forms are created through evolution and there is no reason to believe in a creator.
  3. Evolution is God’s way of creating things (living or otherwise) in this world. For instance, God created the universe through big bang and then the earth and other planets evolved over time.

I would also like to present here views of few Pakistani religious scholars. Obviously, they believe in either first or the third view point.

Dr. Israr usually remains neutral on this topic, he presents both first and the third point of view. Though I feel that he is more inclined towards the third one.

Maulana Maududi didn’t believe in evolution so he supported the first view, where as, his fellow Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Amin Ahsan Islahi used to believe in evolution, set in action and controlled by God. I heard a story regarding Dr. Israr and these two leaders of Jamaat. Dr Israr was also in Jamaat as a young member when these two were the main Jamiat leaders. Dr Israr used to ask questions to Maulana Maududi regarding evolution. Then he used to come to Maulama Islahi and argue with him on the subject using Maulana Maududi’s arguments. He used to go back and forth like this, pitting the arguments of two scholars against each other without letting them know. Finally some senior member of Jamaat stopped Dr Israr from doing this as this could create divisions within the leadership.

Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, who is a student of Amin Ahsan Islahi, does not believe in evolution and says that there is no scientific evidence in support of this theory.

I have heard that Allama Iqbal and Dr. Muhammad Rafiuddin also believed in evolution.
Personally, I believe that ‘Theory of Evolution’ comes nowhere near to explain the creation of life and different species on earth. It has a lot of gaps and shortcomings. Allah Almighty created us and everything else around us and we have to learn a lot more to understand how He actually did it.

Allah knows best….