Editorial: A Thought Experiment
posted almost 5 years ago
Here’s an interesting thing to consider. Everything physical in the universe is made up of small particles that are called atoms (it goes deeper than that, but excepting cases of nuclear fission and fusion, atoms are generally indivisible and serve as the basic units of matter). Atoms move around according to physical laws of motion, bouncing into each other and at each point of contact either bonding to other atoms, breaking bonds they have, or simply bouncing off without breaking or forming molecular bonds.
Did you know that a typical human body cell is about 10 micrometers in length? That’s about 10,000 times the length of a glucose molecule, which is roughly 1 nanometer in length. Guess how long it takes for a glucose molecule to bounce randomly from one end of a cell to the other? One tenth of one hundredth of one second. And it doesn’t do it via a straight shot, either. Owing to the random interactions of the molecule with other molecules, it takes a very circuitous route to cross from one end to the other. And it interacts with other molecules at a rate of 1 Trillion times per second.
Glucose, in comparison to single atoms of, say, Hydrogen, is a fairly large complex of atoms, having 24 atoms composing it, half of which are 14 to 16 times heavier than Hydrogen…each. The upper limit of how quickly individual atoms interact with others is about 1 quadrillion times per second. Now that we know that, let’s just assume that all atoms and molecules achieve that upper limit, for simplicity’s sake.
Guess how many atoms there are in the universe? Well, for comparison’s sake, Earth is about 6e24 kilograms. Its density is about 6 times that of water, and so we can multiply Avogadro’s number by the mass of earth times 6 to get an upper limit for the number of atoms which compose the earth: Roughly 6*6*6e(24+23+1)= 3e50. The total number of atoms in the whole known universe is estimated to be 10e80.
So, now we can estimate the upper limit on the number of atomic interactions that occur every second in the universe: 10e80*10e15 (10 to the 15th power being one quadrillion). Simply add the exponents: 10e95. We can calculate the number of collisions per minute: 6e97. Multiply by 525,600 minutes (that song “Seasons of Love” that the choir kids used to sing turned out to be helpful, so give credit where credit is due), or why not round up to 1 million for simplicity’s sake, and we have 6e103 atomic collisions every year in the known universe.
Most scientists believe that the universe began roughly 14 billion years ago (notice that I’m continually rounding up in order to get an upper limit, precision is not the point here), which is 14e9 years. Multiply that by 6e103 and we get 10e113 as our final answer for the total number of atomic interactions since the beginning of the universe, assuming a starting date 14 billion years ago.
What is the point of this exercise? Well, aside from the entertaining random facts I’ve been giving you, we now have a way to statistically analyze the possibility of life randomly arising in this universe without the intervention of any intelligent deity of any kind. Let’s consider the beginning of life, for if life indeed began through random molecular collisions, it would have begun through either the random combination of nucleotides (genetic material) or amino acids (structure/function material). Since the genetic code allocates 3 DNA base pairs to each amino acid, we’ll select proteins as our molecule of study in order to give the maximum possible benefit to the theory that they could indeed combine by chance to create life.
A typical protein is a few hundred amino acids long, (in humans the median is about 350), so let’s choose a low number, say 100, to be as generous as possible to the “time + chance = life” crowd. There are 20 amino acids in the repertoire to choose from. The possibility that the right amino acid is put in position 1 in order to make a functional protein is 1/20, or 1 in 2e1. The possibility that the next one in line is the correct one is also 1/20, and the combined possibility that amino acids one and two are correct and in the correct order is 1/20*1/20 or 1 in 4e2 (1/400). As we move down the row, the probability of each amino acid up to that point being the correct one in the correct order is multiplied by 1/20. 100 amino acids, on the short end for a human protein, has a (1/20)^100 or 1 in 10e130 probability of happening.
The chance of just one typical protein coming together by chance is 1 in 10 to the 130th power. The total number of POSSIBLE molecular interactions in the whole universe since the beginning is 10 to the 113th power, I remind you. The discrepancy is 10 to the 17th, or a factor of 100 quadrillion. In other words, to put it in statistical language, the probability of a single protein coming together by random chance is less than one chance in 100 quadrillion. There isn’t even a one-to-one possibility. If there was a 60 to 1 chance that life could arise by chance, that would be worth considering. If there was a 1 in 1 chance, that would be the same as saying it was 50/50. But there is a 1:100,000,000,000,000,000 chance of a single protein forming, let alone an entire proteome of 20,000 proteins, let alone an entire planet of trillions of animals and septillions of cells and decillions of proteins. The chance is so small for all of this to have happened by chance that it is essentially zero. Which really means—it could not have happened. Therefore it did not.
This is what is so ludicrous about the worldview of those who want to deny God’s existence. At least those who believe in God and evolution can appeal to His supernatural power to “guide” evolution so that it all works out, but atheists have no such appeal to make. Despite the fact that evolution could not have occurred without an unbroken string of miracles from the beginning and at every picoseconds thereafter and on until today. The hilarious irony is that evolution requires more miracles than the alternative view, yet it supposes that there is no miracle-maker.
This is why an (honest) evolutionary biologist and textbook author named Fred Hoyle had the following to say:
“No matter how large the environment one considers, life cannot have had a random beginning. . . . There are about two thousand enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in (10^20)^2000 = 10^40,000, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup.” (F. Hoyle and C. Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 176.)
When it all boils down to it, for evolution to be a viable theory, it needs to appeal to miraculous acts of God. And when you’ve admitted to that possibility, the obvious question is whether or not God actually did use evolution. When you read the book of Genesis and realize that God doesn’t even hint at it, but directly contradicts it on multiple points…then you’ve got to ask yourself, why would I continue to believe in this despite the evidence to the contrary? Feel free to share your thoughts below.