TW Viewpoint | What Is the Probability of Life?
January 25, 2017 | Stuart WachowiczSubscribe Today! If you would like to receive weekly emails informing you when new commentaries and Tomorrow's World Viewpoint videos are uploaded, please subscribe to our e-newsletter.
The origin of life is a much debated topic. Some have dedicated their lives to finding an answer. Others write the question off as unanswerable. Just what is the probability of life occurring?
It has become abundantly clear that earth is the only place where life exists in our solar system.
All of the other planetary bodies have been explored to one extent or another without revealing the existence of a single organic molecule.
Well how many earths might be out there in the galaxy and the galaxies beyond our own? What is the probability of finding life outside of the earth?
Probability is a field of mathematics that assesses the likelihood of an event occurring.
Mathematics is a good predictor, and given enough information, can accurately predict the possibility of an event occurring whether:
- Election results
- Life expectancy of a population (Insurance rates)
- Likelihood of one purchasing a certain item
Traditionally people under the influence of religion have viewed life on earth as the product of a deliberate and planned creation. Others explain the presence of life through a slow process of development or evolution, which presently seems to be the most accepted point of view.
Well how do mathematicians assess the probability of evolution?
The development of life represents the coming together of various molecules to form more organized and complex forms. That is the development of life requires things moving from less order to more order.
To evaluate the likelihood of this possibility mathematicians would first consider the second Thermodynamic Law, called the Law of Entropy.
Evolutionary thought is predicated on the premise that matter can move to a higher state of order. Mathematics holds an opposite view.
Dr. W.H. Thorpe (Prof. of Animal Ethology: Cambridge) wrote this: "...the likelihood of life occurring by chance is fantastically improbable. The spontaneous formation of life violates the second Thermodynamic Law, which states that all closed physical systems (such as the earth) tend toward a state of maximum disorder."
Let me give a simple example of probability.If you had a single die, the likelihood of rolling a one, is 1/6. If you had a ten sided die the likelihood of rolling a one is 1/10. In order to show this let us first express chances in a different way:
- 1 out of 100 1/10^{2}
- 1 out of 1 000 000 1/10^{6}
In mathematics if the chances of something occurring are smaller than 1/10 ^{50}we generally say the chances of that event are nil, that is it will not occur. This is because 10^{50} represents a number that is far greater than the estimated number of planets in the entire universe.
In that light we can look at the statement from Dr. Jean Morton: "...the odds that a single large protein molecule can develop by chance are 1/10^{113}...." He goes on to say that the chances of the natural development of the 25 000 enzymes that help make up the human body are 1/10^{2 825 000}
To put it another way, former astrophysicist and head of mathematics at Wales University, Dr. Wickramasinghe and Sir Fred Hoyle, describe the likelihood of human evolution to be as mathematically plausible as:
"...a tornado blowing through a junkyard and leaving behind a complete and flyable Boeing 747..."
These men I have quoted are some of the most respected mathematicians on the planet, they are not religious nut cases. They have looked without prejudice at the notion that life evolved by chance from non-life, and has progressed through natural selection into the complex forms we have today, and have come to the same conclusion:
To accept evolution, one must first accept that the impossible happened.
I'm Stuart Wachowicz for Tomorrow's World Viewpoint.
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