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on 13 April 2009
This is a superb book.
The book is an excellent review of the scientific theories pertaining to the origin of life. The author speculates that life may have begun deep below the surface of the planet and that life may be seeded from one planet to another via meteorites. The remainder of the book is a very well considered review of competing theories. Amongst other things Davies emphasises that the problem with the origin of life is notsomuch the origin of complexity but the origin of organised /meaningful complexity.
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on 25 May 2009
A lot of intelligent, interesting and profound ideas. The best is the role of intelligence itself in shaping the future of the cosmos, not necessarily an all embracing intelligence on a "god" scale but rather each and every intelligent being is capable of affecting the future for good or bad. Of course he assumes that "intelligence! involves "free will": I agree with that but that part is not explored thoroughly.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 January 2010
The Fifth Miracle: The search for the origin of life, by Paul Davies, Penguin, 1998, 304 ff.

Theories of the origin of life
By Howard A. Jones

No, this is not a theology book, though it does take its title from the author's reading of Genesis where God is said to create the universe, light, firmament, land - and then life, all regarded as miracles. Setting theology aside, the rest of the book is a scientific description of theories - biological, chemical and physical - as to the origin of life on Earth. The author was a Professor at the University of Adelaide when this book was written and is now at the State University of Arizona where he is Director of a Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, exploring subjects as diverse as cancer, which he proposes be studied in a non-traditional way, and the search for extra-terrestrial life.

In the opening chapter Davies makes it clear that he does not believe in vitalism, the existence of some kind of life force in living matter. He does however accept that living matter contains a unique type of information that allows self-propagation. There is a good discussion of the scientifically accepted (Darwinian) biological role of DNA and RNA here and in later chapters, but for any Lamarckian interpretation readers must turn to authors like Bruce Lipton. In fact, the whole book is more biological than others I have read by this author, but it's good to see Cairns-Smith's ideas of clay minerals as templates for nucleic acids getting some coverage. As usual in his books, Davies combines with fluency geology, biology, cosmology and metaphysics (about the meaning of life, for example) on a scientific bedrock of physics. Also as usual, there is no mathematics for readers to have to get their heads around. As might be expected from the title, there is more biology in this book than physics, but this is also in line with the author's current research interests. At the end, there are several pages of Notes that include References, and an Index set in a very tiny font size that's hard to read.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles
What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Canto)
Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos (Penguin Science)
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on 11 May 2013
An interesting book looking at the very origins of life on earth and explaining the way microbes and bacteria work and how they live in the most extreme of environments. There is a lot on the second law of thermodynamics and how it relates to biological entities. There is a lot on DNA and RNA and the way that these can be made from amino acids.

He considers the possibility of life having existing on Mars millions of years ago, and the possibilities that microbes could have been carried from one planet to the other after meteor strikes.

Some of the science was a bit beyond me, but the majority was clear.
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on 23 March 2000
Paul Davies here goes through the theories attached to the enduring problem of where life originally came from, how an inhospitable lump of rather warm rock managed to become a world of living creatures. Sometimes the science is really a bit too (unnecessarily) blinding, especially where Davies tries to relate the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy to the origins of life: the connection between physics and biology here is rather difficult to understand. But by the time Davies'...erm... less substantiated theories about meteorites and Mars start being elaborated, the book's taken on a momentum of its own. It's a very interesting book, but, to a layman, only quite convincing.
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on 3 February 2008
I don't know who Douglas Palmer (quoted in Amazon's own review of this book) is but he clearly has either not read the book or else did not understand it! The book actually argues the exact polar opposite of what Palmer states. That is to say, that the beginnings of life in as far as science can currently understand are an 'up-hill' process and that life, what's more, intilligent life should have arrisen in the universe even once is nothing short of miraculous. The argument thus, is that we are, in fact, alone whether we like it or not. I don't know, therefore, how much use the above Amazon review is but the book is one of my favourites, very informative and definiately worth a read. Davies does (in my opinion) make an error at one point in his 'information theory'/'thermodynamics' but it doesn't affect his argument. It's a great book.
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on 26 April 2001
This book describes in detail various theories on the origins of life. It is supported by a combination of scientific research information and personal views which made it a very enjoyable read. One of the most interesting books I have read on this subject. I would be very interested to know which of the theories Paul Davies favours most.
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on 5 November 2000
At every page I was ready to put this book down if the author showed himself to be a quack scientist. I finished, just, and am very greatful. Paul Davies wants to convince us - not that life does exist on Mars, and life forms do roam all over universe on stray asteroids - but that it could be true. That's fine with me. So along with dozens of "could be"s and "might be"s we actually get a lot of real science on the way. What sparked off life? If you are interested, read this book, but don't expect the answer.
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