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← Discussion between Richard Dawkins and Paul Davies

Discussion between Richard Dawkins and Paul Davies - Comments

Lisa Bauer's Avatar Comment 1 by Lisa Bauer

I was there -- it was a fascinating discussion. I'm pleased it's up so that everybody can enjoy it.

Sun, 17 May 2009 12:20:00 UTC | #361051

AllahsBoyfriend's Avatar Comment 2 by AllahsBoyfriend

hawaiian shirts are not cool

Sun, 17 May 2009 12:56:00 UTC | #361073

Planeswalker's Avatar Comment 3 by Planeswalker

You're kidding? Hawaiian shirts are awesome. They are, in fact, bigger than Jesus.

Sun, 17 May 2009 13:07:00 UTC | #361076

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 4 by Steve Zara

What a delightful and informative discussion. The following stood out for me:

A possible (albeit probably unlikely) link between the lack of evidence of aliens (so far) and the kind of mechanisms of abiogenesis we should be considering.

A great explanation of why Lamarkism won't work for complex organs.

Why proteins were almost certainly not the original replicators.

This really shows what a great producer of ideas Richard is.

Sun, 17 May 2009 14:06:00 UTC | #361095

Alex Smith's Avatar Comment 5 by Alex Smith

I wish the discussion would have lasted longer.

Sun, 17 May 2009 14:49:00 UTC | #361103

cwells's Avatar Comment 6 by cwells

I am on a limited highspeed so watching videos on my computer can be a bit trying. Can I purchase a dvd of the discussions between Dawkins, Davies, Greene, Pinker et al?

Sun, 17 May 2009 14:51:00 UTC | #361104

Sally Luxmoore's Avatar Comment 7 by Sally Luxmoore

Very interesting. I'm really glad that it's possible nowadays to 'experience' these events over the internet. Thanks.

Sun, 17 May 2009 14:52:00 UTC | #361105

dochmbi's Avatar Comment 8 by dochmbi

@1: I wish I will be able to see Dawkins live during my lifetime. I need to go to England soon.

Sun, 17 May 2009 15:00:00 UTC | #361108

sbooder's Avatar Comment 9 by sbooder

That had me totally captivated, one of the best pieces I have seen on the site.

I hope RD will wet our appetites soon by putting the first chapter of the Greatest Show on Earth on the website?

Sun, 17 May 2009 15:53:00 UTC | #361126

gurkuda's Avatar Comment 10 by gurkuda

If you had the chance to attend one of these discussions and got lucky enough to grab the mic, what would you ask Richard Dawkins? I can think of a few questions. I will add them later.

Sun, 17 May 2009 16:16:00 UTC | #361131

j.mills's Avatar Comment 11 by j.mills

Great to see all the other stuff from that symposium that is available on the TSN site. My cup runneth over!

I do find that a delightfully impish argument that Richard's touting these days, that we may need to look for a wildly implausible hypothesis for the origin of life!

On the intelligence thing: RD points out that eyes have evolved 40 times, intelligence only once. But then, whoever's the first intelligence on the planet is clearly only going to see one instance of intelligence around them. And the long-term effect of humanity on the planet is probably gonna prevent intelligence arising in other species, just by our generally being in the way. So even if intelligence is a relatively discoverable trick, I reckon that on any planet it's first come first served. (Unless perhaps it arose separately on isolated continents in a shortish timescale without seafaring...)

Conclusion: you can't draw any conclusions. Big news. :)

Sun, 17 May 2009 16:59:00 UTC | #361139

Ned Flanders's Avatar Comment 12 by Ned Flanders

Couldn't they have got a small side-table for the drinks?

Sun, 17 May 2009 17:08:00 UTC | #361142

Genemachine1's Avatar Comment 13 by Genemachine1

Would love to hear a discussion between Richard and another evolutionary biologist sometime, maybe with opposing views on the subject.

Sun, 17 May 2009 17:17:00 UTC | #361144

yyy's Avatar Comment 14 by yyy

On earth, we only observe 1 instance of evolved sophisticated (human equivalent) language/intelligence, yet many instances of convergently evolved sight/hearing/flight/etc. However, maybe the former is a phenomenon that tends to happen late in a planets evolutionary history and we humans just happen to live in a time when only one has recently happened so far. Sight/hearing/senses deal with a brain processing information so maybe they're building blocks necessary to bootstrap more sophisticated intelligence at a later time (so perhaps we have a sort of time bias in observing its rate of occurance).

On earth, in the present at least, we can see genes for human equivalent brains are successful given their wide replication in the bodies of earth dominating humans. And given that whatever replicators happen to be most successful tend to thrive and dominate replication, perhaps we can expect convergent human equivalent intelligence to be a norm on other planets, given enough time (just an idea/speculation).

Sun, 17 May 2009 17:22:00 UTC | #361148

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 15 by Alternative Carpark

Very enjoyable indeed.

That inappropriate first question from the crowd for some reason reminded me that this whole religion debate really is nothing more than a distraction from the far more interesting, and, of course, vitally important, business of science.

After that wonderful talk, I almost groaned at the first questioner's attempt to change the subject, and was glad when they decided to set it aside.

Sun, 17 May 2009 18:43:00 UTC | #361170

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 16 by Bonzai


Ah, Richard Dawkins debated a templeton foundation guy

Eh..did you watch the clip?

I agree with Alternate Carpark that this is a lot more interesting than talking about religion. Dawkins has a lot more to offer when he talks about interesting science than repeating himself ad nauseum about religion.

Sun, 17 May 2009 18:58:00 UTC | #361173

Godfree Gordon's Avatar Comment 17 by Godfree Gordon


Completely off topic, but I took the time to read your story. Its a great read and would recommend everyone to where you've come from and how you're travelling. You are quite inspiring.


Sun, 17 May 2009 19:06:00 UTC | #361175

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 18 by Carl Sai Baba

"Hawaiian shirts are awesome.
They are, in fact, bigger than Jesus."

Jesus should try tween sizes.

Sun, 17 May 2009 19:13:00 UTC | #361176

root2squared's Avatar Comment 19 by root2squared

Shirts suck, be they Hawaiian or otherwise. Too many goddamn buttons.

Sun, 17 May 2009 19:22:00 UTC | #361177

Goldy's Avatar Comment 20 by Goldy

String vests. God enough for Rab C Nesbitt, good enough for me ;-)

Featured topic now resumes...

Sun, 17 May 2009 19:42:00 UTC | #361179

NullInfinity's Avatar Comment 21 by NullInfinity

Fascinating discussion!

Part of the talk dealt with the question of whether Lamarckian evolution might work in some alternative environment. Dawkins did not think so.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that it may possible for Lamarckain evolution to take place in a world of robots - where baby robots can be born with the acquired memories of its parent(s). Would that actually be an example of a Lamarckian process, or am I missing something?

Sun, 17 May 2009 19:52:00 UTC | #361182

Lisa Bauer's Avatar Comment 22 by Lisa Bauer

#18 Godfree Gordon

Completely off topic, but I took the time to read your story. Its a great read and would recommend everyone to where you've come from and how you're travelling. You are quite inspiring.

You mean my very first post on the Forum? Well, thank you, although I must admit I want to die of embarrassment just thinking about it and my life up to that point. But I'm glad you found it inspiring, if nothing else -- maybe it wasn't all a total waste if somebody else got something positive out of it. I take things day by day, and I've gained a LOT more self-confidence since, without Islam, among other things, holding me back.

Back to the topic:

#17 Bonzai
Ah, Richard Dawkins debated a templeton foundation guy

Eh..did you watch the clip?

Well, it was hardly a debate, but it's true that Paul Davies was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1995 ( (Incidentally, I don't know why he decided to come to Arizona State University, of all places, a couple years back! Whenever I hear of famous people or eminent intellectuals coming to my state, I can't help but wonder what they're doing in this dump!)

#14 Genemachine1
Would love to hear a discussion between Richard and another evolutionary biologist sometime, maybe with opposing views on the subject.

Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould debated at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford back in 1988; unfortunately I can't find any more information about it. It must have been quite interesting! I found all of one quote about it, in Thomas Bass's book of interviews with leading scientists, Reinventing the Future (there's one with Dawkins, it's quite good):

Q: You and Stephen Jay Gould recently debated the theory of evolution before an audience of a thousand people in Oxford. What was the nature of the debate?

A: I advocate the gene as the level at which natural selection acts, while he advocates a variety of higher levels. Gould wants to be catholic in his approach, while I want to be rigorous. Natural selection has to work on something that's self-replicating, and your individual organism is not a unit of selection. The debate was cordial. It was hard-hitting. But we both went away feeling just the way we did when we came in. (p. 127)

Sun, 17 May 2009 20:15:00 UTC | #361184

windweaver's Avatar Comment 23 by windweaver

A great talk by Richard. His knowledge and understanding of evolution is second to none. BTW one of the best examples of epigenetics was the Dutch famine of WW2:

Sun, 17 May 2009 20:31:00 UTC | #361186

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

Comment #378109 by NullInfinity

That sounds a bit like culture!

Sun, 17 May 2009 21:38:00 UTC | #361193

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 25 by Steve Zara

Comment #378063 by j.mills

It may be worth pointing out again that the assumption that eyes evolved really independently 40 or so times could well be wrong. Most types eyes, no matter what their structure, have the same genes controlling their development. It may well be that eyes have only evolved independently a few times.

Sun, 17 May 2009 21:42:00 UTC | #361195

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 26 by Bonzai

Let's see if I understand Lamarckian process correctly. Is it like, if the parents become coffee addicts their babies will demand coffee instead of milk,--or coffee with milk?

Sun, 17 May 2009 21:44:00 UTC | #361196

Brian English's Avatar Comment 27 by Brian English

Something like that Bonz, though I thought it magically selected good traits. Not sure caffeine addiction gets a gurnsey. I think the paradigm was that an ancestral leaf eating quadruped spent all it's life straining its neck to get higher and higher to reach the best leaves. In this process, it somehow came to have a slightly longer neck. Which its offspring duly inherited. This process repeated through the generations until you end up with a giraffe. All by inheriting traits aquired during an animals lifetime.

Perhaps Arnorld Swartznegger's kiddies will have big muscles because their dad aquired them and so they inherit them a la Lamark? ;)

Sun, 17 May 2009 22:09:00 UTC | #361198

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 28 by Michael Gray

Both delightfully informative and informal. :)

Just a minute on "Darwin". No hesitation, repetition, or deviation.

(Kenneth Ham doing camp Kenneth Williams impersonation) "Deviation!"
(Nicholas Parsons) "He did *not* deviate, Mr Ham"
(KH) "I meant that he IS a deviation!"
(NP) "Get off my show, you creationist cretin."

(Sorry 'bout that chief...)

Sun, 17 May 2009 23:00:00 UTC | #361203

NullInfinity's Avatar Comment 29 by NullInfinity

Comment #378120 by Steve Zara

You're right, and it could be argued that "culture" is a better example - since cultures actually exist!

It turns out that the Wikipeadia article about "Lamarckism" mentions that Lamarckism may be applicable to cultural evolution (and to some extent meme theory).

Elsewhere, I found proposals for interpreting "software evolution" in "neo-Lamarckian" terms. That seems close enough to the original robot-world example.

Mon, 18 May 2009 00:55:00 UTC | #361217

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 30 by bendigeidfran

A mohel told me Lamarckism doesn't cut it.

Mon, 18 May 2009 01:11:00 UTC | #361221