Dawkins event highlights ASU Origins Project - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Dawkins event highlights ASU Origins Project

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Travis Roemhild is a reporter at the Ahwatukee Foothills News. Reach him at (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 8:00 am

There are many things to do in Ahwatukee Foothills on any given night, let alone a Friday or Saturday. But this past Saturday, Feb. 4, instead of hitting the usual spots, I found myself at Arizona State University, listening as two men at the top of their respective fields talked about the question that has plagued scientists and philosophers for centuries: Why are we here?

There are a string of lectures and other events taking place at ASU under the umbrella of the Origins Project. At the most recent event, author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss talked for a little more than an hour at Gammage Theatre about topics such as religion, evolution, and American politics, but the main focus was on the title of the conversation - "Something from Nothing?" - and how and under what circumstances life evolved on earth.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not an expert on any of the above fields and some of what they were saying definitely went over my head, but to hear about their theories on how chemistry, in the stages before life sprung up on earth, segued into biology, that was thought-provoking to say the least, even if scientists do not have a concrete answer the question.

Religion and atheism are hot and often controversial topics, especially when it comes down to the big question: Did God create the universe? The two on stage voiced their beliefs and discussed it openly. One of Dawkins' books is called "The God Delusion," where he explores and ultimately states that there is little chance that a God exists.

Krauss held similar beliefs, so it was one-sided in that regard, but they talked about why religion came to be in the first place - to answer the question that scientist may never be able to answer.

There are theories about how something, how life came from nothing, and Krauss explores that in his book, "A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing."

Even if you aren't a believer in what they have to say, a lot can be taken away from listening to either of them. I look at it in the context of: this is where science is right now, this is the frontier of scientific discovery.

Overall, the conversation felt that it flowed a little too quickly, but I don't fault them for it because they covered a great deal of information in just over an hour.

When they did get to the main question - "How did life evolve from chemistry?" - elements formed in the early stages of earth, and energy, I thought they passed over it too quickly.

What I gathered from it was that scientists are not 100 percent sure how those first instances of genetics and self-replicating molecules formed. This, of course, leads to conversations, and often arguments between those who believe in a God and those who do not.

I believe the ASU Origin Project is a tribute to the amount of talented and intelligent people that live and work in the Phoenix area.

The university has the ability to bring the top minds from not just around the country, but the world, because of the respect it has earned in the world of scientific research.

There are two upcoming events under the Origin Project, both at the end of March. One is called "Great Debate: Xenophobia, why do we fear others?" on March 31, and the other is "War and Peace in the World of Ants," on March 30. To find out more, visit www.origins.asu.edu.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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