Would You Stake Your Life On A 1-In- 10-To-The-140th-Power Chance Of Surviving?

Mathematics, simple or otherwise,  has never been my forte, but one thing I understand from those who eat, live and sleep numbers is that odds, or chance, can be measured, as in probabilities.

That means the probability of the proper alignment in the right proportion under the correct environmental conditions for the creation of the first living cell can be expressed as numbers. But we aren’t talking about numbers like 2+2.

Above photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash.

Molecular biologist Douglas Axe put it this way some years ago:

“For a protein made from scratch in a prebiotic soup, the odds of finding such globally optimal solutions are infinitesimally small- somewhere between 1 in 10exp140 and 1 in 10exp164 for a 150 amino acid long sequence if we factor in the probabilities of forming peptide bonds and of incorporating only left handed amino acids.”

Axe is among the science types involved with a fascinating video entitled “Origin: Probability of a Single Protein Forming by Chance.” It’s just over nine minutes long, but beautifully produced and imminently accessible for those who aren’t already cosmologists, physics profs or other super-high grade brains.

So enjoy. And after you do, tell me what you think — good, bad, otherwise — in the comments.

Also, check out my post about a journey I begin tomorrow, February 2, that will take me and 16 colleagues to Puebla, Mexico, on a week-long mission. I’ll be posting about our experiences from Puebla during the week.

Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland. Go here: https://hillfaith.blog/about-hillfaith-2/

14 thoughts on “Would You Stake Your Life On A 1-In- 10-To-The-140th-Power Chance Of Surviving?”

  1. Those may be the odds, but the entire world was taking that bet, and it ran the odds for half a billion years (more or less). The odds of something particular happening may be one in ten to the 140th – but the odds of *something* happening are 100%.

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  2. The fact of ME obviates your argument. Somewhat more immediate is the chance of winning a lotto, but someone always does. Part of the problem here is the supposition that only the authors proposed ‘proper alignment’ can achieve the result of a ‘cell’. Rubbish all.

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    1. Given the odds shown above, it must be relatively easy to produce the “alignments” of life. So where are the other alignments? The same alignments, with minor variations, comprise all known life. That would be rather unexpected given your assumptions.

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  3. Under the rules of quantum physics, atomic particles such as protons, neutrons & electrons only exist as physical objects when being observed; otherwise they remain in a quantum state where all possible combinations thereof exist simultaneously. Since only a self-replicating living cell would qualify as an observer, the obvious answer is that the entire universe existed as a quantum state for billions of years (enough time for some of the atomic particle combinations would allow stars to form and then die as supernovas, which are necessary to form the heavier elements like iron). The number of all possible combinations of atomic particles in the entire universe over billions of years is probably the most mind-boggling number ever proposed, but in the very first combination in which the exact configuration of atomic particles required to build a living cell existed, all those possible combinations become physical objects simultaneously into the one observed by that living cell, namely, the universe we live in.

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  4. The genetic takeover, as it was called, of mineral structures would account for some machinery and in a soup of amino acids and some carbon chains of sugars, lipids and so on you would have as they say in Hollywood, the elements but the script is just not there, the writer hasn’t got a plot and the story is a fairy tale without end.

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  5. Clearly life manifesting on earth was not random. There was and is a design, a blueprint that comes into manifestation. The highly intelligent Eloheim are builders of form and cooperate together.

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  6. Eloheim work as builders of form. There are many that cooperate in these efforts. Highly intelligent and very powerful. They bring all things necessary for life together. Thank them.

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  7. The way the people in the video are calculating the odds with regard to the folding of proteins is completely incorrect. It is true that there are 20^100 (20 to the 100th power) different ways to arrange 20 amino acids in a protein that is 100 amino acids long (most proteins are much longer), but it is not true that there is only 1 chance in that large number of getting a protein that can accomplish the particular task of the protein in question (the video doesn’t specify what protein they are talking about, but it could be myoglobin based on it being 150 amino acids long). You need the right sequence of amino acids in order to make the myoglobin shape (although we don’t know for sure how many different variations can make the same 3D shape), but you don’t have to have a myoglobin shape in order to bind oxygen. Myoglobin happens to be what evolved, but there are alternative ways to make a protein shape that does what myoglobin does. We don’t know exactly how many ways, but the argument that you have to have the exact sequence of myoglobin in order to bind oxygen is incorrect. The numbers they are using to calculate the probabilities are meaningless.

    The whole intelligent design approach of using scientific-sounding arguments to argue about the improbability of various molecular events, with the implication that a supernatural event is responsible, is misguided. First, they always use fallacious reasoning when calculating the odds, as in this video. But more generally, who are they trying to convince with their arguments? Nobody is going to be convinced of the existence of a higher power by these types of arguments. Christians (for example) already believe in highly improbable events (such as the resurrection of Christ, or Lazarus), and non-theists are not going to be converted from their atheistic views by some probability calculations.

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    1. As you say, there may be many other molecules that work to effect a specific function. That begs the question, where are they? I’d expect a few alternate ones to appear here on earth, but they don’t appear to. Why can’t we design one? Also, where’s the alternative to the DNA/RNA/protein paradigm for the basis of life? There’s got to be others. Where are they? Ask any biochemist how you produce proteins. The response will be that you need DNA. Ask the same biochemist how you produce DNA. Answer. you need proteins. There’s no other known way. Chicken, meet egg.

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  8. There are other questions. Is the universe a set of objects in space? Or is it a landscape for moral action? Is meaning and purpose knit into reality? What is human consciousness? What percentage of reality are humans capable of perceiving?

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  9. I know the concept of élan vital is dismissed by our reductionist / materialist society, and perhaps it should be. Still, there aren’t any current models in science that can explain what drives the evolution of life, despite the formidable odds against it. Hand waving explanations about closed systems and energy doesn’t cut it.
    These are the same folks who posit that consciousness is an illusory epiphenomenon of the brain, much like bile is excreted from the bile ducts, or blood cells are formed in bone marrow. Essentially, they believe we’re simply computers made of meat. The qualia experience is either ignored of papered over. When asked what is perceiving the ‘illusion’ of consciousness, the response is more hand waving about illusion.
    There’s little sense in debating folks like this as it’s turtles all the way down for them, so to speak.

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  10. The weakness of the video is highlighted by the responses of some of the comments left before mine. Using statistics to persuade people isn’t effective if those people don’t really understand statistics. Most biologists don’t receive a thorough training in statistics in their college coursework, and it shows in the study of evolutionary biology.

    What is interesting is that at least some of the people who advocate intelligent design are those who believe in evolution while also having a good understanding of statistics. It is a logical progression but not a journey everyone takes.

    What I also find interesting are the links between the study of economics and the study of evolution which go all the way back to Darwin. Both economics and evolution attempt to study incredibly complex problems. And most people attempt to draw simple answers from those fields without understanding that underlying complexity.

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  11. Fun video. It is also a mystery to those in the field how a concentration gradient could form within a self assembled lipid bilayer, not that they admit the fact.

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