It's no accident that we see stars in the sky, says famed Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins: they are a vital part of any universe capable of generating us. But, as Dawkins emphasizes, that does not mean that stars exists in order to make us."It is just that without stars there would be no atoms heavier than lithium in the periodic table," Dawkins wrote in The Ancestors Tale -- A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, "and a chemistry of only three elements is too impoverished to support life. Seeing is the kind of activity that can go on only in the kind of universe where what you see is stars."
It was predictable, for example, that eyes and ears would develop in different species, and they had done so independently several times over, Dawkins said. "Natural selection is the great engine of the predictable side of life, but it cannot start without certain prerequisites."
Dawkins said it was his gut feeling that there has been another stroke of luck that would have developed life elsewhere in the Universe.
"There are billions and billions of planets out there, so there could be millions of planets that have life on them, but the origin of life could still be a staggeringly good stroke of luck," he said.
To Richard Dawkins believing in God is like believing in a teapot orbiting Mars. Dawkins said that a sense of gratitude had developed as an essential part of human societies. This meant humans had an overwhelming desire to give thanks, even when there was no-one to give thanks to and this, in part, had given rise to religion.
Dawkins sees himself as a "religious non-believer" who's career has revolved around Darwin's view that all was 'produced by laws acting around us' described so powerfully by Darwin in the Origin of the Species:
"Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving -- namely, the production of the higher animals -- directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
Posted at 12:16 AM | Permalink
Human Vision Traced to 600-Million Year Old Hydra (A Galaxy Classic)
Our eyes that scan the farthest reaches of the universe had their origin in the simple hydra, a members ancient group of sea creatures that along with jellyfish, belong to the phylum cnidaria that first emerged 600 million years ago and are still flourishing, according to scientists at UC Santa Barbara.
"We determined which genetic 'gateway,' or ion channel, in the hydra is involved in light sensitivity," said senior author Todd H. Oakley, assistant professor in UCSB's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. "This is the same gateway that is used in human vision."
Oakley explained that there are many genes involved in vision, and that there is an ion channel gene responsible for starting the neural impulse of vision. This gene controls the entrance and exit of ions; i.e., it acts as a gateway.
The gene, called opsin, is present in vision among vertebrate animals, and is responsible for a different way of seeing than that of animals like flies. The vision of insects emerged later than the visual machinery found in hydra and vertebrate animals.
"This work picks up on earlier studies of the hydra in my lab, and continues to challenge the misunderstanding that evolution represents a ladder-like march of progress, with humans at the pinnacle," said Oakley. "Instead, it illustrates how all organisms -- humans included -- are a complex mix of ancient and new characteristics."
Casey Kazan via University of California - Santa Barbara