Laws of
Astronomical Earth Life
Chemical Absurdities and the “Jethro” Factor
by Charles E. Brewster, Ph.D.

Summary: Is there a reasonable chance that chemical evolution could occur within the bounds of known science? To answer this question, this short article pulls together the processes of chemistry, genetics, statistics, and common reason to give a answer consistant with the knowm laws of science. A simple conclusion is, No good thing continues by chance, good things, and good science happen by design and someones' hard work. Check it out yourself!
As Christians, we need to be ready always with an answer for anyone who asks us the reason for the hope we have within us. Many times though, this question is asked by someone who really doesn’t want an answer and will not believe even if we give him a good and reasonable answer. When the Pharisees came and asked Jesus questions, they didn’t care about getting answers, they only wanted to trap Jesus by his words. (Mark 12:13-15) People do the same things to us today. And we need to be ready with answers just as Jesus was, not so much for the benefit of those who are trying to trap us, as for those bystanders who are listening.

For instance, Robert Shapiro, in his book "ORIGINS: A Skeptics Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth," challenges Christians by implying that even the most impossibly improbable event could happen. He says:

"...Why need the event have been probable? We can just stare at the odds, shrug, and note with thanks how lucky we were. After all, improbable events occur all the time. For example, the odds in the lottery we cited were 10 million to 1. As we have seen, we would have to buy a ticket every day for about 30,000 years to make a win a probable event. Yet, every so often we note in the newspapers that there is a winner. That person was not 30,000 years old, and usually has bought just one or a few tickets. He was merely lucky.” (p. 128-30)

First of all, Shapiro’s math is wrong. For a lottery with odds of 10 million to one, only 5,000,001 tickets need to be sold to make a win “probable”. This would take only about 13,700 years of buying one ticket per day. Since Shapiro bungled this simple lottery problem, I wonder just how much he actually does understand about probability and statistics.

Now, getting back to his lottery example, it is possible (though not probable) that someone could win on the first ticket he bought. But that should not be a surprise. If 5,000,001 first time lottery ticket buyers bought tickets in one day, it is “probable” that one of them would be a winner.

This lottery he speaks of has odds of one chance in ten million and that seems as if the odds of winning is very small. But if we say that it is one chance 10 to the 7th power, it doesn’t sound like much of a problem to beat those odds. (Ten to the 7th power is 10 multiplied by itself seven times.) What we must keep in mind is that powers of 10 seem deceptively small because powers of 10 were created as simply a shorthand way of noting very large numbers.

Shapiro wants us to believe that since the improbable sometimes happens, then life could also evolve from non-life even if the odds against it happening are overwhelming. He implies that no matter how infinitesimal the odds against life evolving from non-life, it could have happened by chance because after all, someone wins the lottery every day even though the odds are against them.

Shapiro does not understand that a lottery and a “chemical event” are two totally different animals. A few years ago, Scientific American published an article which claimed that any “chemical event” having a probability of less than one chance in 10 to the 67th power will never happen, and has never happened--anytime, anywhere in the universe, even in 20 billion years!

This sounds unreasonable at first glance. After all, if there is one chance in 10 to the 100th power that something could happen, there is after all one chance that it could happen! The problem is, we are thinking in terms of lotteries, not chemistry.

Chemical reactions occur only under certain conditions. For two atoms to “bond” (join together into a molecule) they must be within an “interacting neighborhood.” That is to say, the atoms must be very close together--on the order of 100 picometers (10 to the -10 power meters). So the entire universe, even including the remote expanses of mostly empty space, consists of a relatively small finite number of “neighborhoods.” (Depending upon the size you use for the universe, about 10 to the 110th power “neighborhoods.”)

So the atoms must be moving in order to come into the “neighborhood” of another atom. The faster they are moving, the more opportunities to form a “bond.” But the atoms must not be moving too fast in relation to each other, otherwise the momentum would rip them past each other before they could bond. So there is a certain finite number of “opportunities” available, even in 20 billion years.

Also, if the temperature is too cold, very few reactions will occur. But if the temperature is too hot, more “bonds” will be broken than are formed. Even when the temperatures are just right, “bonds” of a long molecule chain may be broken simply because a random high energy atom or molecule knocks it loose.

We know that the universe is unbelievably large but we tend to forget that most of the universe is very hot and exists as plasma (atoms which are stripped of their electrons and can’t enter into chemical reactions) or as star material which is hot enough to destroy amino acids, proteins and other complex molecules rather than allow them to form.

For this reason, statisticians have concluded--based upon the size of the universe, the temperatures under which “bonding” occurs, the presumed age of the universe, the nature of bonds and how they are formed and broken-- that 10 to the 67th power is the upper threshold for any chemical event to happen--anytime, anywhere in the universe, even in 20 billion years!

This is why “chemical events” are not like lotteries. Suppose we run a lottery in which the total number of tickets are 10 to the 80th power. (This would be hard to do since there are only 10 to the 80th power atoms in the entire universe.) If one of those tickets is the winning ticket, there is a chance that someone could win that lottery. But with a “chemical event” having odds that small, it is not possible that it could ever happen! It would self-destruct long before it could form.

Proponents of evolution have claimed that billions of years ago, amino acids formed by chance in the earth’s ocean. These amino acids then attached themselves together to form proteins (proteins are simply long chains of amino acids), then the proteins grouped together to form a living cell. And from this cell, and others like it that were forming, all life on earth came to be.

But even the proponents of evolution admit that about one hundred fully functioning proteins would be necessary to create even the smallest living cell. So not only would one fully functioning protein have to form, ninety-nine others would have to form at the same time and at the same point in the universe. (Not to mention the cell membrane and the other cell support mechanisms that would “miraculously” have to appear at exactly the same time and place.)

So this presents another problem because when more than one unlikely event has to occur simultaneously, their probabilities are multiplied together. If we bought a ticket in the Ohio lotto with odds of one in ten million with one dollar, and a ticket in the Indiana lotto at odds of one in ten million with another dollar, the likelihood that we would win both those lotteries is one chance in ten million times ten million or one chance in one hundred trillion (100,000,000,000,000). That really sounds like a huge number, but it is still only one chance in 10 to the 14th power. (Count the zeroes.) When we multiply powers of 10, we simply add the exponents. (10 to the 7th x 10 to the 7th =10 to the 14th) These are true mathematical probabilities and apply to both lotteries and chemical reactions.

Shapiro seems to think that any two atoms that have bonded together have done so in spite of astronomical odds against them. He would have us believe that if I have one oxygen atom, it is one of 10 to the 80th power atoms in the universe. Therefore, since I have that one atom, I have just beaten odds of one chance in 10 to the 80th power. That is utter nonsense!

By Shapiro’s reasoning, if I have two oxygen atoms bonded together, I must have beaten odds of 10 to the 80 x 10 to the 80 x 10 to the 110 (they both came together in one of the 10 to the 110 neighborhoods in the universe) which is one chance in 10 to the 270th power! Here, Shapiro has introduced the “Jethro” factor. That is, he has pulled a flim-flam similar to when Cousin Jethro Bodine on the old Beverly Hillbillies Show would impress his Uncle Jed by saying, “Nought plus nought . . . , and carry the nought, . . .” And Uncle Jed would say, “Whoooeee! That boy shore can cipher!”

Shapiro and Jethro are mathematical cousins because both are trying to razzle-dazzle us with phony math.

Now let’s consider the true mathematical probability of forming a protein by chance.

We know that if we take the proper chemicals and mix them together we will get synthetic amino acids. The only problem is, when we synthesize amino acids this way, they are completely “racemized”--that is, they consist of equal amounts of right-handed and left-handed molecules. The atoms that form amino acids “bond” together into cork-screw shapes--the cork-screw can curve to the right (right-handed) or to the left (left-handed). But a useable protein must be composed entirely of left-handed molecules.

So a protein chain will be unusable if it contains even one right-handed amino acid. But each time an amino acid bonds itself to the protein chain, the odds are only one chance in two that it will be left-handed. This is not a problem if the protein chain is short--say three amino acids long. Then the probability would be one chance in 2 to the 3rd power or one chance in 8.

If the earth had an entire ocean full of racemized amino acids that had occurred naturally, they would be in a constant state of combining, breaking apart and recombining. But these events would be occurring at a predictable, finite rate -- behaving exactly as the laws of chemistry, physics, and probability predict. One half of the combinations will be between left-handed and right-handed molecules, one fourth right-right combinations and one fourth left-left combinations. And the number of “chemical events” that could occur in this theoretical ocean, even if the earth were 5 billion years old (which it is not), is far less than could occur in the entire universe in 20 billion years. And don’t forget, statisticians have already proven that any “chemical event” that has a probability less than one chance in 10 to the 67th power will never happen--anytime, anywhere in the universe, even in 20 billion years.

So what are the odds against forming a fairly small protein chain of about 250 amino acids by chance. (Protein chains of up to 50,000 amino acids are found in nature.) The odds against assembling any protein chain consisting of only left-handed amino acids by chance is 2 to the “n” th power where “n” is the number of consecutive amino acids in the protein. This means that the odds against assembling a useable protein of only 250 left-handed amino acids from a racemized mixture is one chance in 2 to the 250th power. This is about 1 chance in 10 to the 74th power. (The odds against assembling a useable protein molecule of 50,000 amino acids would be less than one chance in 10 to the 15,000th power!) So could this small 250 amino acid protein ever form by chance in our hypothetical ocean? Never! It could never happen by chance!

So if it is mathematically and physically impossible to for even a single protein chain of 250 amino acids to form by chance, what would it take for a fully functioning cell consisting of at least 100 useable proteins to assemble themselves at the same point in the universe at the same time? (This is even given that we had all the other cell mechanisms existing at that point in the universe, at that point in time, encircling them!) The answer is one chance in 10 to the 74 multiplied by itself 100 times! (10 to the 7400). And this only gets us 100 very small proteins!

This is why scientists now believe that the odds against a fully functioning cell occurring by chance is one chance in 10 to the 100 billionth power! (1 followed by one hundred billion zeroes--think of it as a 100 gigabyte harddrive full of nothing but zeroes. Big number!)

You see the problem is, Mr. Shapiro and those of his ilk, are not being honest. For if they were, they would acknowledge that any chemical event that has a probability of less than one chance in 10 to the 67th power will never happen--and has never happened--anytime, anywhere in the universe, ever! This is science! Hard, mathematical science! And how much more impossible, an event with a probability of one chance in 10 to the 100,000,000,000th power!

Mr. Shapiro would have us believe there is no God--that everything we see has occurred by chance. But only a fool would believe that a chemical event that had only one chance in ten to the one hundred billionth power could ever happen. So in this, Shapiro has proved God true. Because God has said:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; . . . Ps 14:1

Dr. Brewster is the author of Sophia’s Unfaithful Lovers: How Philosophers Have Seduced The Church or more information on this topic see Chapter 12 in this book.
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