August Book Club – Origins

On Friday, August 24, the Skeptic book club met for a rousing discussion on origins to attempt to answer the question:  Where did we come from?

We began by discussing Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing. In his book, Krauss presents some of the modern science and ideas of the cosmos. The book attempts to answer the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Our lively discussion of A Universe from Nothing, included the following points:

  • The “nothing” Krauss refers too isn’t a pure nothing – he really means an empty space. “A Universe from non-zero vacuum energy” isn’t a very catchy title!
  • Is the original origin (i.e. the point of the Big Bang) an actual coordinate in space? Could such a coordinate even exist if space didn’t exist?
  • In general, this is a difficult topic for non-experts to discuss. Krauss is the expert and generally we just have to take his word as truth.  Some of the group members felt it was hard to determine which points in the book are rigorously scientifically based and which points are looser theories or hypotheses.

Once we established theories on the origins of the universe, we turned to the origins of the species (wordplay intended) and discussed The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. In his book, Dawkins attempts to “persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence.”  Our discussion of the book included the following points:

  • Genetic mutation is random, however, survival of that mutation is non random. Evolution can be summed up as non-random selection of random variation.
  • We discussed and debated the terminology “survival of the fittest”
  • Sickle Cell anemia was used as an example of a seemingly negative genetic variation that actually is adaptive; the genes that produce sickle cell anemia also provide malaria resistance.

This month’s book discussion provided us with a better understanding of origins. We ended by raising the philosophical point: Knowing what we know now, is there room for a God?

Join us in September for a Statistics themed book club.  Every good skeptic should have a basic working knowledge of statistics and this discussion may help. We will be reading The Lady Tasting Tea by David Salsburg and What is a p-value Anyway? by Andrew Vickers.  Check out Skeptics in the Pub on www.meetup.com/phoenixskeptics/ for more information.

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