Where life came from, according to Richard Dawkins

The legendary atheist and evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins appeared on WBUR, Boston’s richard_dawkins_david_shankbone_eNational Public Radio affiliate. He was debating Design advocate George Gilder.

Dawkins was a professor at Oxford University. One of his admirers had created a special endowment for him, The Charles Simyoni Chair for the Public Understanding of Science.

Minutes before the show began, Dawkins announced that he wasn’t going to debate Gilder, but insisted that Gilder talk for the first 15 minutes, then Dawkins would talk for the final 15 minutes.

I thought that was… shall we say, odd.

Anyway, a caller asked Dawkins about the Origin of Life. Dawkins replied that it was “a happy chemical accident.”

A happy chemical accident?

What do you think of that answer?

170 Responses

  1. daan joubert says:

    If two trains were on the same track approaching each other, the inevitable result according to Dawkins, would be ‘ a happy rail accident’. The nature of the physical world, said to be determined in all important detail during the Big Bang and given the right conditions and enough time (exactly the same requirements as for the two trains) , makes life a similarly inevitable result. It seems Dawkins never heard of the Miller-Urey experiment or perhaps have no idea how long the postulated ‘primordial soup’ existed before there was life.

  2. Good gracious, seems we’re all staying rather far away from the point of the post, aren’t we, which is the origin of life question, and whether it is merely an “accident” (happy or otherwise). There is a rather extensive science literature on all these points, (John Sutherland’s latest work on prebiotic chemistry comes obviously to mind) and it is rather revealing how none of the commenters bothered to allude to any of it.

    From what’s been learned about OoL so far, accident seems not an accurate description. The pieces of life seem inevitable, as amino acids show up naturally (even in comets) and the ones most commonly used in life turn out to be the easiest to synthesize abiotically. Way farther down the stream (and we’re talking billions of years here), endosymbiotic complexity and multicellularity appear fairly inevitable if you let the biology run that long, and those processes are highly observable in living organisms. Simon Conway Morris has written a lot on that natural convergence tendency.

    It should be recalled that Dawkins himself is neither an origin of life researcher or paleontologist, he is a zoologist by training who has acted as a vocal and often entertaining lightning rod press agent for the somewhat antiquated gene-centric British adaptationist philosophical view that he grew up with during his formative scientific years, and which today sounds a trifle more quaint.

    The cutting edge issues in Ool research today certainly relate to the nature of putative RNA-dominated early life (no organism today operates that way, though the ghosts of it are to be found, certainly so in the RNA ribozyme core of the protein-making ribosomes). To what extent the parasite-avoiding DNA option started out as a two nucleotide coding format (rather than the derived triplex coding of LUCA-since organisms) is also an ongoing area of investigation.

    But even if the OoL proves as intractable as a scientific problem as sensory qualia (intrinsically impossible to clarify even as it is entirely neurobiological in nature), it still won’t make all the evidence for natural evolutionary change in the billions of years afterward go away, nor make any particular supernatural entitities any more plausible as an explanation for it.

  3. Amy Lou says:

    My response: Well Mr. Dawkins, who created the chemicals? Answer; GOD.

  4. Brian Thomson says:

    Believing in a “happy chemical accident” requires far more faith than believing in a designer.

    Our own DNA is complex beyond our understanding. In a recent attempt to map our DNA they discovered that making a change to just one strand can cause the design to make changes to many nearby strands in an attempt to self balance. Once this was discovered the scientists made the statement that we do not have the computing power on this whole planet to begin to understand the complexity we just witnessed.

    Our DNA is being destroyed in a metronomic fashion by radiation and other forces. It is only due to the intelligent design, which allows for self repair, that we do not fall apart. There is no way a “happy accident” explains that. Not in the mind of any intelligent person.

    To believe that more complexity can come from less complexity is akin to believing that you could utterly destroy a Home Depot with explosives and have it form into a complete working house. When taken to the extreme of evolution it would then mean that this “happy accident” would not only need to be possible but repeatable through many many such happy accidents. It stretches the imagination far beyond breaking to think that anyone could find that an adequate explanation… unless of course… it is what they want to believe.

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