The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview

Overview

How did life emerge on Earth? Is there life on other worlds? These questions, until recently confined to the pages of speculative essays and tabloid headlines, are now the subject of legitimate scientific research. This book presents a unique perspective-a combined historical, scientific, and philosophical analysis, which does justice to the complex nature of the subject.

The book's first part offers an overview of the main ideas on the origin of life as they developed from ...

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Overview

How did life emerge on Earth? Is there life on other worlds? These questions, until recently confined to the pages of speculative essays and tabloid headlines, are now the subject of legitimate scientific research. This book presents a unique perspective-a combined historical, scientific, and philosophical analysis, which does justice to the complex nature of the subject.

The book's first part offers an overview of the main ideas on the origin of life as they developed from antiquity until the twentieth century. The second, more detailed part of the book examines contemporary theories and major debates within the origin-of-life scientific community.

Topics Included:

  • Aristotle and the Greek atomists' conceptions of the organism
  • Alexander Oparin and J.B.S. Haldane's 1920s breakthrough papers
  • Possible life on Mars?
  • The search for extraterrestrial intelligence
  • Recent discoveries of extrasolar planets
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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
The origin of the very first living organisms has long been a matter of conjecture, though major authoritative figures and common people alike have, over the centuries, believed they knew how it happened. Fry, who teaches at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas and the Department of Humanities and Arts at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, notes, "there is no discussion of the origin of life in The Origin of Species Darwin thought it futile." Other scientists have taken up the question, and now, for the first time, believe an answer is possible. "the origin of life can be approached today not as a mystery but as a scientific problem." Fry begins, in the first five chapters of the book, by tracing humankind's historic thoughts and beliefs on the subject. These beliefs grew from and shaped peoples' world view, and included takes on divine creation. Belief in spontaneous generation, which holds that life springs automatically from nonliving material, was especially enduring, persisting into the 18th century. The remaining nine chapters explore the thoughts and methods by which the scientific community is endeavoring to work out the problem. Oddly, their experiments bear a relationship to spontaneous generation because they endeavor to learn how chemical reactions may have given rise to life. Fry takes the view that science will, in a matter of time, be able to establish that living and nonliving systems are one. Despite his sensitivity to context, this is not a book designed to give a balanced treatment of the creation/evolution debate. The reader needs a background in both philosophy and science, and the pages of this book are dense.KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students, and adults. 2000, Rutgers University Press, 327p, 23cm, bibliog, index, 99-23153, $24.00. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Edna M. Boardman; Former Lib. Media Spec., Magic City Campus, Minot, ND, May 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 3)
Booknews
An instructor of history and philosophy of biology at Tel-aviv U. and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology takes a broad scientific look at the origins of Earth life with a view to possible life on Mars and beyond. Based partly on a similarly themed 1997 book in Hebrew. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813527390
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2000
  • Pages: 344

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Origin of Life - a Subject with a Past and a Future 1
1 "From the Dust of the Ground" 9
2 Spontaneous Generation - Ups and Down 17
3 The Revival of the Belief in Spontaneous Generation 28
4 Louis Pasteur - The Deathblow to Spontaneous Generation 37
5 Between Pasteur and Darwin - a Dead End 54
6 The Oparin-Haldane Hypothesis 65
7 An Era of Optimism 79
8 Evolution in a Test Tube 89
9 Manfred Eigen's Model 100
10 Crisis - Real or Fictitious? 112
11 The RNA World - a Case for Renewed Optimism? 135
12 And Yet, Metabolism 150
13 The Emergence of Life - Neither by Change Nor by Design 179
14 "Life on Mars? So What?" 217
Bibliography 285
Index 301
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