2006 : WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?

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Science Historian; Author, Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe; Darwin Among the Machines
Understanding molecular biology without discovering the origins of life

I predict we will reach a complete understanding of molecular biology and molecular evolution, without ever discovering the origins of life.

This idea is dangerous, because it suggests a mystery that science cannot explain. Or, it may be interpreted as confirmation that life is merely the collective result of a long series of incremental steps, and that it is impossible to draw a precise distinction between life and non-life.

"The only thing of which I am sure," argued Samuel Butler in 1880, "is that the distinction between the organic and inorganic is arbitrary; that it is more coherent with our other ideas, and therefore more acceptable, to start with every molecule as a living thing, and then deduce death as the breaking up of an association or corporation, than to start with inanimate molecules and smuggle life into them. "

Every molecule a living thing? That's not even dangerous, it's wrong! But where else can you draw the line?