Friday, June 6, 2008

Randomness

The best part of the movie Expelled, in my opinion, was near the end when Ben Stein asked Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionist from Oxford University, how life came about. Dawkins said that nobody knows. When Stein pressed him for details, the biologist said the first organism could have come from aliens.

Stein did us all a great service in that interview. It seems that among laypeople there is the feeling that scientists either know or are on the verge of knowing how life has formed. This interview exposed the truth. They don’t and aren’t. Why do people think they do? Scientists may give that impression themselves (to generalize).

Though Origin of Life and evolution are two different phenomena, they are somewhat related since they evaluate DNA, RNA, proteins and other cell activity. If Dawkins were to be truthful, he could have just as well said that nobody knows how evolution works. There are teachers and media involved in transporting information to the public. They come right out and say that evolution is a fact. How can it be a fact when we don’t even know where life came from? How can it be a fact when we have not evaluated fully all the implications of all the new microbiological information that is coming out from experiments?

I remember reading in one of Dawkins' books that the numbers of galaxies and star systems are in the billions and trillions, and that’s good enough for him to cover the probability that life started by chance. That sounds pretty scientific, right?

The study of probabilities is a discipline that is complicated and I am no expert. However, some aspects of probability are not too hard to understand, and the chance occurrence of life can first be considered under “independent probability.” This means that each molecule of amino acid or DNA could randomly connect to another. We can at least start here.

As I have written before, William Dembski has shown that the limit of the number events in this universe are at 10^150. This is a very important limit to know, because we can compare it with the number of tries it would take to get life. For example, the probability of getting 3 heads with 8 sets-of-3 coin throws is 1 in 8. So you’d have to do the 3 coin-flips at a time for 8 times to get a good chance of 3 heads. The probability of 1 in 8 comes from 2^3 (2 cubed or 2 the third power—see exponent link on right for more info). The base is 2 because of 2 possible outcomes for every throw (heads or tails) and the exponent is 3 because the set of 3 throws at a time gives a certain number of total possible outcome combinations (8). You still might not get the 3 heads in 8 tries or you may get them twice. But as the numbers of times you throw a set of 3 go up, you are likely to fall pretty close to the probabilities that the possible options give you. To change the example, if you flip one coin one hundred times and want one hundred heads in a row, you will have 1 chance in 2^100, which is about 1 in 10^30.

Remember, the amino acids have mirror left and right images of each, just like our hands and feet (see amino acid mirror image link for more info). To get one living protein of 100 amino acids by chance, we have to look at the fact that the amino acids have come to form all proteins in the L-handed mirror image. The probability of the first proteins forming in that way is 1 in 2^100, which converts to 1 in 10^30. An organism would need at least 10 proteins, so one would multiply this number times itself 10 times, giving 1 in 10^300. This is just one small part of the necessary probabilities the proteins would have to meet. The limit of 10^150 for all events of the universe, including chemical reactions, shows us that even all these events would not cover the number of tries needed for the correct combination (all L-handed) of amino acids for just these 10 proteins for mirror-image alone. (The smallest number of proteins of a living bacteria found so far is ~1100, and bacteria are the simplest free-living organisms.) When you take in account the types of bonds of the amino acids and the specific positions they need to have in order to function, you see it is not just probability but function that is evaluated.

I talked in the previous entry (June 3) about the true meaning of the word RANDOM. Lee Strobel, a journalist who wrote a great investigative book called The Case for a Creator, (Zondervan, 2004) about the prevailing attitudes in public perceptions of “modern science,” science education and what is really true. He interviewed Stephen Meyer concerning probabilities that life may have started by chance (p. 228-30). Meyer commented that origin-of-life experts have rejected the possibility of chance. In other words, they must look for a law of nature other than the ones we already know that would somehow cause life to form if they are to prove life came about by RANDOM nature alone.

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