Customer Reviews


9 Reviews
5 star:
 (3)
4 star:
 (3)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life, the Universe and ... well ... everything
You can't fault Paul Davies for a lack of gumption. Anyone who'd subtitle his latest book, "the search for the origin and meaning of life" isn't in need of any assertiveness training courses. When I first picked up the book, I thought, "Yeesh, a physicist, writing about the origins of life. Wouldn't that be more the work of a molecular biologist?" But as I read on, I...
Published on 26 April 1999

versus
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating mix of solid science and vague weirdness.
I was fascinated by this book, and in many ways it presents a revolutionary picture of life in the solar system based on solid science, such as the recent discoveries that may show life on earth originated deep under the surface, which implies that life could have originated without a planetary surface that was juuuuuust right. But as a physicist I'm disturbed by the...
Published on 15 May 1999


Most Helpful First | Newest First

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating mix of solid science and vague weirdness., 15 May 1999
By A Customer
I was fascinated by this book, and in many ways it presents a revolutionary picture of life in the solar system based on solid science, such as the recent discoveries that may show life on earth originated deep under the surface, which implies that life could have originated without a planetary surface that was juuuuuust right. But as a physicist I'm disturbed by the way Davies cavalierly throws around the authority of physics in a manner calculated to impress and mystify. I can't help thinking that his fancy footwork with information theory is a matter of the emperor's new clothes. Certainly my PhD in physics didn't help me to decode some of this stuff, which is not a good sign for a book supposedly aimed at a general audience. I can't understand his aversion to the idea that life might have evolved independently on Mars or Europa, and I'm puzzled by his refusal to believe in a materialistic basis for life. To his credit, he does a fairly good job of pointing out which of his ideas are (to put it charitably) speculative.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What are the other four??, 3 Feb 2006
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life (Paperback)
Approaching this book with some trepidation, it proved a surprisingly good read. Davies is a lucid writer, deft with words and descriptions. His 'chatty' approach brings the reader to his way of thinking with deceptive ease. He even provides an impressive chapter on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a daunting topic at any time. Describing how the Second Law should be properly addressed in the biological realm, the chapter is a quiver of arrows effectively countering the anti-Darwinists who cite the Law in refuting evolution by natural selection. He also manages to explain, as no-one else has done, how we know certain meteorites originated on Mars. All this fine work is undermined by his conclusion. The title, of course, gives the game away. If you don't know what the other four miracles are, you have to read his Preface. Or his source.
Davies opens by expressing his disappointment with "science" not having "wrapped up the mysteries of life's origins." He doesn't make clear why he held this opinion, claiming to have spent "a year or two researching the topic." He then summarizes the various theories offered on life's origins ranging from Darwin's "warm little pond" through Urey and Miller's laboratory generation of amino acids to Graham Cairns Smith's crystalline model of molecular replication. Each little digest of various research efforts are closed with Davies carefully dismantling each result as failing to provide the answer he seeks. Davies is not alone in his dissatisfaction. The numerous concepts offered on life's origins suggests how vital this question remains throughout the realm of science. It's not surprising that he finds a near solution in the "replicating molecule" attached to growing crystals first proposed by Graham Cairns Smith. This idea has the advantage of showing how organic life superceded simple chemical organizations. For Davies, it has the added benefit of being applicable to any place in the universe where conditions permit such organization and replication to occur.
Davies eschews mainstream expressions about divine origins for life. In its quest, even in Davies' critical eye, science has shown that simplistic metaphysical answers are no answer at all. Evolution is an accepted fact, as is the Big Bang. The mechanism of evolution by natural selection, which Davies insists on shortcutting to "Darwinism", is, in the words of Dobzhansky, "the answer to all complex questions about life." Except one: how did it start? Davies is a bit heavy-handed in scoffing at science's failure to solve this quest. Throughout the book he portrays scientists "scratching their heads" or "wringing their hands", actions scientists actually engage in only when suffering from dandruff or washing up for dinner. Scientists probe for answers, they don't throw up their hands in despair when research fails to provide explanations to their questions. They try again. In the final analysis, Davies is hugely unjust to the scientific community. He owes many colleagues in biology and related fields a humble apology. Scenarios of the early conditions of Earth's environment are still undergoing revision. He dismisses the work of Urey and Miller by showing their concept of our planet's early atmosphere has been replaced by new theses. That's how science moves along. If we don't have an answer for life's origins yet, then it may come from further work. Since we can't duplicate the conditions, we may never find that answer.
Davies' own solution, after guiding us through a litany of science's failures, boils down to the reason he's the winner of the Templeton Prize. In the Preface, he wants to fit life, particularly human life, into a 'grand scheme'. This 'grand scheme' accepts the idea that life will emerge anywhere in the universe when conditions permit. We live, therefore, in a "universe of information." Contending that the laws of physical and chemical operations are too simple and general to produce life, some information source must have brought about a new level of organization. Darwin's concluded The Origin of Species with the comment, "light will be thrown on the origin of man," a statement imbued with meaning. Davies' own concluding words, that we live in "a universe in which we are not alone" is no less meaningful. He leaves mooted what the implications of this universal information source might be. However, his vivid depictions of "baffled" scientists failing to discover the origins of life leave few options. Davies leaves us to define the "information source" for ourselves. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life, the Universe and ... well ... everything, 26 April 1999
By A Customer
You can't fault Paul Davies for a lack of gumption. Anyone who'd subtitle his latest book, "the search for the origin and meaning of life" isn't in need of any assertiveness training courses. When I first picked up the book, I thought, "Yeesh, a physicist, writing about the origins of life. Wouldn't that be more the work of a molecular biologist?" But as I read on, I was gradually taken in by Davies spell.
And that's saying something. If, five years ago, you'd told me I'd take the following ideas seriously, I'd have laughed nervously and edged away in a non-threatening manner. Here are Davies' ideas in a nutshell (no pun intended):
1) Life may have existed on Mars. 2) Life may still exist on Mars. 3) Life on earth may have arisen in space and migrated here (panspermia) 4) The "natural" home for life on earth may be in the hot depths of the crust, kilometres beneath the surface.
As I say, five years ago, those ideas would have been heresy. But it's been an interesting five years. The (in)famous martian meteorite, the discovery of tiny, primitive forms of life deep within the earth, life thriving around hydrothermal vents, the discovery of intricate chemical reactions happening in space ... well, it's been fun. And Davies takes full advantage of living in such "interesting times".
Davies makes a thoughtful (if not always persuasive) case for his views on the origins of life. And I found it a really enjoyable read. If you're at all interested in where life came from, or whether there might be life "out there" this is a great book to begin with. Davies is an excellent writer with some fascinating ideas and a great style:
"In a subject supercharged with such significance, lack of agreement is unsurprising. Some scientists regard life as a bizarre chemical freak, unique in the universe, whereas others insist that it is the expected product of felicitous natural laws. If the magnificent edifice of life is the consequence of a random and purely incidental quirk of fate, as the French biologist Jacques Monod claimed, we must surely find common cause with his bleak atheism, so eloquently expressed in these words: "The ancient covenant is in pieces: man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he has emerged only by chance. Neither his destiny nor his duty have been written down." But if it transpires that life emerged more or less on cue as part of the deep lawfulness of the cosmos -- if it is scripted into the great cosmic drama in a basic manner -- it hints at a universe with a purpose. In short, the origin of life is the key to the meaning of life."
And while I might not agree with all his ideas ... ask me again in five years.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Up-to-date coverage of orgin of life theories and more, 3 April 1999
By A Customer
For a physicist, who admits he is somewhat out of his realm, Paul Davies does a good (but not entirely flawless) job dealing with biological issues. For example, contrary to what is stated in the text, (p73) left-handed DNA has been found: Z-DNA, (p 41) there is at least 1 form of "life" that does not have a double-helical structure of DNA: M13 virus, (p 41 - 42 and later) DNA can not replicate itself (later, in 1 sentence, he acknowldeges that proteins are needed). Except for these trivial "errors" (?), I found the material quite up-to-date, relevant, and convincing. He presents many ideas to the reader, but his core argument basically boils down to the fact that life is based more on aperiodic, specified, complexity than anything else, and that no known law of nature could produce such specific randomness as the genetic code - "A functional genome is both random and highly specific - properties that seem almost contradictory. It must be random to contain substantial amounts of information, and it must be specific for that information to be biologically relevant. Could a law on its own, without a huge element of luck (i.e., chance), do such a thing? Can specific randomness [as is found in a genome] be the guaranteed product of a deterministic, mechanical, lawlike process, like a primordial soup left to the mercy of familiar laws of physics and chemistry? No, it couldn't. No known law of nature could achieve this..." (p119 - 120). Davies provides supporting evidence for this theme throughout the book. What about the often-heard argument, "You'd have to be pretty arrogant and naive to believe that Earth-life is the only life in such a vast and limitless universe". After presenting both sides of the argument, he states: "There are indeed a lot of stars - at least ten billion billion in the observable universe. But this number, gigantic as it may appear to us, is nevertheless trivially small compared with the gigantic odds against the random assembly of even a single protein molecule. Though the universe is big, if life formed solely by random agitation in a molecular junkyard, there is scant chance it has happened twice." (p 95). If a physicist with at least 24 books authored states that it couldn't have happened twice, I would be a fool to disagree. The coverage of topics is impressive. Information theory, second law of thermodynamics (concerning entropy in terms of both energy and information), error catastrophe, the ALH84001 Martian meteorite, biological cross contamination between Mars and Earth, archea extremophiles ("superbugs"), and much more. Each of these topics is presented clearly and convered well. In true scientific style, Davies, who like many other scientists admits to large holes in current theories concerning the origin of life, states that science will eventually figure out the underlying mechanisms without having to call upon an Intelligent Designer. I myself am not so sure.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book but better is The Bible According to Einstein, 4 May 1999
By A Customer
Davies is a good writer and a knowledgeable physicist but he is not an expert when it comes to the origin of life and it shows in his book. For example, the idea that life of Earth might have originated on Mars is ridiculous. The chances that an impact strikes Mars and ejects a meteor that eventually lands on Earth is quite low. The probability that the meteor contains life and that the life survives the impact on Mars and the impact of Earth is virtually zero. It is also not likely that the environment on Earth at the time when the meteor strikes Earth would be suitable for the type of life that might have appeared on Mars. Furthermore, the chances that life actually occurred on Mars at some point in the past is uncertainty but low. Multiplying the probabilities associated with the above leads to the conclusion that it is virtually impossible for life on Earth to have originated from Mars. I learned how life arose from a very interesting book called "The Bible According to Einstein." In a 20-page chapter of that book, one can learn 90% on what is relevant about life formation. Life emerged when organic molecules were mixed in the oceans, probably near hydrothermal vents. Although "The Fifth Miracle" is well written, I recommend that one buy "The Bible According to Einstein" instead.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of speculation, 10 Jun 1999
By A Customer
I learned a lot about the theory of how life first evolved from this book. The facts were very interesting (maybe because I have never taken a biology class before). The most interesting part was the experiment where a replicating (bacteria?) was evolved over 70+ generations to produce a more efficient organism. That is the most clear-cut example of evolution that I have ever seen. I did not know that the Pope endorsed evolution -- I wish there was a citation to back up that claim.

What surprises me is how little we know about the formation of a first ancestor. After reading The Elegant Universe (the best non-fiction book I have read since A Brief History of Time), I consider String Theory to be better supported than any theory presented on the origin of life. Towards the end, I felt as if there was not enough content to fill up the book and Davies was forced to speculate on other people's speculation. If chapter 10 and most of chapter 1 were removed, I might have rated this book higher.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars the "origin?" ... yes ... the "meaning" of life ... no, 5 Jun 1999
By A Customer
The latest summary of life's origins. But, as the author admits, scientists are still coming up seriously empty-handed when they try to explain how that "first" cell came to be. The underlying tone is confident. Once we discover how naturalistic processes developed the first living thing, the rest of evolutionary theory falls nice and neatly into place. Case closed.
As for the meaning of life, it seems to be that we are just vessels for DNA to replicate. Pretty fulfilling. For a better, more lucid description of this idea read Dawkins's "River Out of Eden." Davies completely fails at this part of the book's subtitle.
One little question: when are popular proponents of naturalism and evolution going to stop misrepresenting the Pope? Davies says on page 264: "Today evolution is almost universally accepted; even the Pope has given it his blessing." The Pope's remarks to which he refers just validated the scientific contribution of evolutionary research, the Pope did not endorse naturalistic (hence, Godless) evolutionary theory. Doesn't that seem obvious? And one more thing. Evolution may be "almost universally accepted" by scientists who subscribe to a naturalistic worldview (for that is a tautology). But polls show over and over again that 90% of the people believe in some sort of God and that about 50% believe in miraculous creation (of some sort) and the other 50% believe in some sort of grand, gradualistic evolution (whether God had anything to do with it or not). This may show some cognitive dissonance in many people, but it does not show the "almost universal acceptance" of the grand evolutionary theory.
(It's also a pity that Michael Behe's book "Darwin's Black Box" gets half a sentence and one little footnote. Whether you agree with Behe's logic of irreducible complexity or not, you will surely find the problems he presents for the chance origination of even the most simplest cell, even by some kind of Dennett-type boostrapping process, to be most confounding.)
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fifth Miracle Whip, 3 April 1999
By A Customer
I really enjoyed this because like many people i've often wondered about the origins of life. This book gives you the skinny on that whole thing and more besides. i feel great!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Gotta Get This Book!, 30 Jun 1999
By A Customer
This is the best book in some time written from the naturalistic point of view. Using the utter failure of evolutionary theory to account for the origin of life as his starting point Davies follows Crick into the foundationless morass of panspermia. The debate is over! Neo-Darwinism is nonsense. Buy this book so that you can understand the depths that naturalism forces otherwise rational people to go to in an attempt to avoid the obvious. Phillip E. Johnson's Reason in the Balance and Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box have pounded the final nails into the coffin of Darwin's failed theory.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life
Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life by Paul Davies (Paperback - 22 Mar 2000)
Used & New from: 0.04
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews