Probabilty and the Origin of the First Cell

What do you think of these arguments against the chance origin of life?

From an Answers in Genesis online textbook (Chapter 5):

Harold J. Morowitz, professor of biophysics at Yale, has calculated that the [probability of] formation of one E. coli bacteria in the universe at 10-100,000,000,000, or one in 10 to the power of 100 billion. Sir Fred Hoyle has offered the analogy of a tornado passing through a junkyard and assembling a Boeing 747, “nonsense of a high order” in his words. Natural selection cannot be the mechanism that caused life to form from matter as it can only work on a complete living organism.

…The many distinct interactions within living systems clearly point to the presence of a designer, the God of the Bible.

And earlier in the same chapter:

[Evolutionist Thomas] Huxley suggested that, given enough time and material, six monkeys could type the 23rd Psalm simply by randomly punching the keys. … So what is the answer to Huxley’s argument of time and chance?

Assuming a 50-key typewriter to accommodate letters, numbers, and punctuation, the chance of typing “THE” is one in 50 x 50 x 50 (503), or one in 125,000. At a rate of one strike per second this would take 34.72 hours. For the phrase “THE LORD” the chance becomes 508 and requires 1,238,663.7 years. The entire Psalm requires 9.552 x 101016 years to complete on average. The age of the universe is only 15 billion years according to evolutionists, so the probability is clearly outside of the realm of possibility.

Similarly from the video at the top of The Institute for Creation Research‘s article, Only God Could Have Made Cells:

Basic life needs a minimum of 200 proteins, each of which can have anywhere from 20 to many thousands of amino acids that must be present and in the correct order. That’s about 1 in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion chance for basic life to exist.

This is an argument I heard more than once as a Christian: The simplest form of life — a single cell — is so complicated that no amount of stirring the primordial soup could ever have produced it. Therefore, God must have done it.

It’s true that even the simplest cell is unimaginably complex, a marvel of seemingly intelligent design. For it to have come together by chance really would be like Hoyle’s tornado assembling a Boeing 747 from a junkyard.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that no mainstream evolutionist believes that evolution started with a single cell!

Rather, there were eons of molecular evolution before the first proto-cell formed. The ICR’s 200 proteins did not have to come into being with one shuffle of the cards, so to speak. Neither did the molecular bonds in Morowitz’s E. coli bacterium. A ratcheting-up process, by which components of cells ranging from molecules to membranes, each stable on its own, came together in increasing levels of organization, could produce a cell one step at a time.

If Huxley’s monkeys had to start over every time they made a mistake typing the 23rd Psalm, which is the scenario behind Answers in Genesis’ argument, it’s true that they would never finish in the lifetime of the universe. But if, every time they got a letter right, it was locked in, they would finish in a few hours.

To say that the components of cells were that locked-in is an exaggeration of what happened, but you get the idea: a probabilistic argument that fails to account for some amount of locking-in of components on the way to a cell is completely worthless. When made by people who ought to know better, it is dishonest.

I’ll go into the evolution of molecules in another post later this week. For now, as I approach my appearance at a forum where people are going to ask me questions about why I rejected Christianity, and what they can do to prevent apostasy in others, I want to pause and say how arguments such as those from Answers in Genesis and the ICR influenced me.

For many years, they did buttress my faith. I remember being very impressed when a medical-school student gave a presentation at my church. His studies had given him a deeper and deeper appreciation of how complex cells are, and a firmer and firmer conviction that even the simplest cell could not have come together by chance.

However, when I eventually learned that no evolutionists argue that the first cell came together all at once, and therefore all those arguments from probability are completely bogus, I was outraged that I had been fed such irrelevant arguments (and keenly disappointed in myself for swallowing them).

My trust sunk to new lows when I saw top-notch organizations such as Answers in Genesis make totally false statements such as the one in the first quotation above: “Natural selection cannot be the mechanism that caused life to form from matter as it can only work on a complete living organism.” (Again, more on molecular evolution later this week.)

As much as I wanted to trust my fellow Christians to handle the truth faithfully, I learned that I could not. It was a point not lost on me that Christians — actual human beings — had also selected the books to include in the Bible. If I could not trust Christians with simple mathematics, why should I believe that Christians had assembled the canon with integrity? That, too, may be the subject of another post.

One response to “Probabilty and the Origin of the First Cell

  1. Pingback: A Case Study in Creationist Quote-Mining | Path of the Beagle

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