Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Probability of Life

I've had an interesting month or so when it comes to discussing the origins of life and its probability.

Last week's final post on God in school elicited a response from a friend who is a science teacher, and is someone I respect tremendously.  She outlaid what I knew to be true but didn't articulate clearly in my post.

Many teachers are forced to teach certain curriculum and have no say in how it is presented.

I think that is unfortunate, particularly when covering evolution and the origins of life.

Please understand this important point: I adhere to evolutionary theory as an explanation as to how life evolved on our planet.  I do not dispute this at all.  What I dispute is unguided evolution based on the probability of life originating and then evolving as rapidly as it has.

Please allow me to explain using the origin of life on our planet: DNA.

There is little dispute among the biological community that the first forms of life on our planet were simple bacteria.  There is little dispute that the building blocks of these bacteria are proteins composed of the DNA molecule.  There is little dispute regarding the DNA molecule and how it is in a double-helix shape composed of nucleotides.  These are composed of  nucleobases (guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine), recorded using the letters G, A, T, and C.  (Don't worry, I'm not going to get into anymore detailed scientific terms.  Please bear with me.  I think this is extremely important.)

Now, in the simplest of bacteria, there are hundreds of thousands of nucleobases.  This is important.  The human DNA has over 3 billion base pairs, dwarfing bacteria.  So, we are talking about the very, very basics.  Simple, correct?  And with the trillions of planets that must exist in our universe, life should be a slam dunk?  Correct?

Richard Dawkins, noted biologist and atheist gives the origins of life a one in a billion chance.  As such, he is a firm believer in the existence of life throughout the universe.  But I wonder where he got that one in a billion figure?  Is it that small?  And yes, I believe it is too small.

Interestingly enough, in a debate between Dawkins and John Lennox, who is a mathematician, Lennox states that he cannot believe that life developed randomly.  Dawkins, either sympathetically or condescendingly says, "I know that."  I think Dawkins would do well to study some mathematics and try to understand why Lewis says what he says.

I think I get it, and here is why:

The first nucleotide would be either a G,A,T, or C. It has a one in four chance of being the correct one or 25%. Not too bad a chance. But let's extend that down to ten places. Each place has a one in four shot, so we get 1/4 x 1/4 x 1/4.... or 1/4^10. That's a 1/1,048,576 chance that all 10 would come together. The odds are getting much smaller--already passing Dawkin's one in a billion chance. So, let's extrapolate down another 10 spots. 1/4^20 or 1/1,099,511,627,776. Those odds are essentially nil, zero, not a snowball's chance in h-e-double hockey sticks, and we are only to the 20th nucleotide. Would you ascribe such a coming together of chemicals to chance? Even if you have hundreds of billions of planets out there, do you really believe that number comes even close to lessening the odds? Statistically, not a chance. At all.

Somehow in the primordial soup that was our planet nearly 3 billion years ago, life emerged as these chemicals came together to form it. You can say that it happened by chance that these chemicals somehow did this on their own, but that's not exactly a very rational statement in light of the math. It's possible that it could have happened in such a fashion, but it is definitely more rational to believe that it didn't just happen on its own.

So, once again, we are left with three options presented to us regarding the origins of life:

1. Pure chance--mathematically laughable.
2. In an impossibly large number of parallel universes, we happened to be in the one that was just right--not evidence based as there is no way to measure or observe some sort of parallel universe by definition.  One must adhere to this option purely by faith.
3. Life was create--the most probable of the three given the numbers along with the fact that our universe began out of nothing and is finely tuned.

In our school systems, when it comes to teaching biology and the origins of life, #1 and #2 can be freely taught without repercussion despite the known difficulties.  I am of the persuasion that option #3 needs to be added as an option in our educational system.  It seems the most rational position.

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