Monday, November 03, 2008

The probability of life appearing spontaneously ... nearly infintesimal.

A generation or more ago a profound disservice was done to popular thought by the notion that a horde of monkeys thumping away on typewriters could eventually arrive at the plays of Shakespeare. This idea is wrong, so wrong that one has to wonder how it came to be broadcast so widely. The answer I think is that scientists wanted to believe that anything at all, even the origin of life, could happen by chance, if only chance operated on a big enough scale. This is the obvious error, for the whole Universe observed by astronomers would not be remotely large enough to hold the horde of monkeys needed to write even one scene from one Shakespeare play, or to hold their typewriters, and certainly not the wastepaper baskets needed for throwing out the volumes of rubbish which the monkeys would type. The striking point is that the only practicable way for the Universe to produce the plays of Shakespeare was through the existence of life producing Shakespeare himself.

Despite this, the entire structure of orthodox biology still holds that life arose at random. Yet as biochemists discover more and more about the awesome complexity of life, it is apparent that the chances of it originating by accident are so minute that they can be completely ruled out. Life cannot have arisen by chance.


The probability of life appearing spontaneously on Earth is so small that it is very
difficult to grasp without comparing it with something more familiar. Imagine a
blindfolded person trying to solve the recently fashionable Rubik cube. Since he can't see the results of his moves, they must all be at random. He has no way of knowing whether he is getting nearer the solution or whether he is scrambling the cube still further. One would be inclined to say that moving the faces at random would "never" achieve a solution. Strictly speaking, "never" is wrong, however. If our blindfolded subject were to make one random move every second, it would take him on average three hundred times the age of the Earth, 1,350 billion years, to solve the cube. The chance against each move producing perfect colour matching for all the cube's faces is about 50,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1.

These odds are roughly the same as you could give to the idea of just one of our body's proteins having evolved randomly, by chance. However, we use about 200,000 types of protein in our cells. If the odds against the random creation of one protein are the same as those against a random solution of the Rubik cube, then the odds against the random creation of all 200,000 are almost unimaginably vast.

Much more to consider at this link.

Related: The Anthropic Principle