Not to put the cart fefore the horse

Cairns-Smith, A. G. (2009) Not to put the cart fefore the horse. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, 39(3-4), p. 201. (doi: 10.1007/s11084-009-9164-7)

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Darwin fully acknowledged the difficulties in seeing how such a thing as an eye might have evolved through natural selection (Darwin 1859, Chapter 6), but he knew of many lesser examples that could clearly have arisen that way. If the detailed, well adapted, shape of a bird’s beak could have arisen through natural selection without the need for a prior creator, then Nature can indeed act as if it were an engineer, producing what seem to be purposebuilt structures, and giving an impression of foresight. But, really, no mysterious view of the future is required. What is absolutely required for nature’s engineer to get to work is remarkable all the same: it is a kind of memory of what succeeded in the past. So this is the question that should be the first focus of our attention: What are the simplest genetic memories that we can imagine working in a primitive geochemical milieu? The RNA world idea has been a great inspiration, but this system is already too sophisticated and too far from ordinary geochemistry to be a likely beginner in the evolution game. I have suggested that the mineral world provides us with several candidates for more primitive genetic materials (Cairns-Smith 2005, 2008 and references therein). I will argue against the usual approach to the puzzle of the origin of life, which looks for ways in which the present molecules of life might have arisen as a prelude to a Darwinian evolution. I think that this puts the cart before the horse. I will suggest rather that natural selection came first, based on inorganic materials, and that “the molecules of life” were a crucial but later part of the story

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cairns-Smith, Dr Graham
Authors: Cairns-Smith, A. G.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Chemistry
Journal Name:Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres
Publisher:Kluwer Academic Publishers
ISSN (Online):1573-0875

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