Part 1 — Probabilities vs Impossibilities

Let’s expand on the “Top 10” reasons given in the previous article. The first 4 are areas particularly conducive to simple mathematical analysis. Our intent here is to be illustrative, however, not exhaustive.

1. The molecules crucial to life are so enormously complex that it is impossible for them to arise by chance. A single simple protein molecule could not have formed even in the “billions of years” evolutionists claim are available.

Atoms, themselves, are wonderfully designed objects. I’m not going to make a case for design at the atomic level, although it’s easy to do. Here’s a key point that is often neglected in origin of life discussions: The design of atoms is such that wonderful versatility is allowed in the formation of molecules. The chemistry and physics of molecular interactions is very well understood. The frontiers of physical understanding are inside the atom’s nucleus and within the constituent particles themselves. What’s important is that life’s complex molecules of specific functionality do not arise by chance. There are too many non-functional options and too many ways for molecules to break down to bridge the gap between naturally occurring compounds and the molecular machinery of life.

The Bible is consistent with this observation. Consider the creation of Adam.

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7

The thought here is that man was formed from the raw materials that God had already created. He created wonderful building blocks, but nowhere are we given the sense that the building blocks – the “dust” – have the intrinsic powers to be able to form incredibly complex and multi-functional creatures. The whole point of “building blocks” such as Legos is that an intelligent designer has the privilege to create whatever design he likes. The blocks don’t adhere to each other in just one possible way. Additionally, nowhere in Scripture is the idea that God intervened from time to time during a billions-year “natural” process.

In 1874 Charles Hodge, a Presbyterian theologian, asked and answered the question, “What is Darwinism?” His conclusion was simple: “It is atheism.” Evolutionary scientists have no confusion about this. They insist that everything we see is the result of inexorable natural forces. Who needs God if that is true?

Amino acids are components of proteins – which are essential to life. The amino acid alanine, for example consists of 13 atoms of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen arranged in a particular structure. Tyrosine is somewhat larger with 20 atoms arranged in a different structure. Experiments or conditions that allow the right elements to mix and provide the requisite energy to initiate reactions can produce such molecules. Some of these experiments – like the famous ones of Miller and Urey – are touted as evidence that the “molecules of life” are easily formed. (That’s not strictly true, but requires a longer discussion.) But amino acids must be combined carefully into proteins to allow functionality in living organisms.

Example: Consider just one solitary protein molecule consisting of a particular sequence of 400 amino acids. There are 20 amino acids to choose from for every unit in the sequence. Now let’s consider the following fanciful conditions, all chosen to make it possible to form a single chain of just the right collection of amino acids:

1. A vat or sea of only the 20 left-handed amino acids useful to life is prepared at just the right concentration, temperature, and other physical conditions. (This would be impossible under natural conditions which would produce other amino acids, including the right-handed variety, plus toxic chemicals. Also, natural concentrations in a pre-biotic world would be hopelessly low.)

2. A chain of 400 amino acids is formed. (This is impossible thermodynamically, without the “factory” of a cell for the protein’s manufacture. Each peptide bond requires energy and the presence of water destroys bonds much more quickly than they can be formed under natural conditions.)

3. This single “protein” of 400 amino acids is stable enough to hang around and wait for a gazillion other such proteins, plus sugars, plus nucleic acids, plus large structures of these consituents, etc., in order to be useful at all.

Given the above fanciful conditions, what are the odds against this protein getting the amino acid order correct? The odds against getting the first one in the chain right are 1 in 20. The odds against the second one are also 1 in 20. Therefore the odds against getting both the first and the second right are 1 in 400. Accordingly, the odds against getting the right order (permutation) for the entire chain are 1 in 20400 (that’s 20 raised to the 400th power). How big a number is this? If you just wait enough billions of years with the “right conditions” will it likely happen?

Let’s put this in context. Consider your chances of tossing 100 pennies on the floor and having them all turn up heads. Is it “possible” that you will do this? The odds against it are 1 in 2100. That’s worse than 1 in 1030, which is a thousand billion billion billion. Note that the alleged evolutionary age of the universe is about 10 billion years, or about 3 x 1017 seconds. Let’s say that you tossed the pennies once per second. And that you got almost everyone on the planet – 5 billion people – to join you and toss a hundred pennies of their own once per second. In the ten billion years of the “experiment”, you and your friends could toss the coins a little over 1027 times. The odds would still be a thousand to one against anyone ever seeing all heads. When the probabilities are so infinitesimally miniscule it is fair to say the following . . . When YOU toss your pennies on the floor, it is IMPOSSIBLE that you will see 100 out of 100 heads turn up. Go ahead. Try it. Let me know what happens.

Back to our lonely protein molecule. Observe that the known universe has “only” about 1080 particles – protons, neutrons, and electrons in all the billions of stars in all the billions of galaxies. Imagine an experiment in which the entire universe of particles was replaced by an imaginary sea of 1080 amino acids. Let them “chain up” a trillion times per second (1012) just to try to get the order right. (That’s faster than physically / chemically possible.) Continue this experiment for 1018 seconds (2 to 3 times the alleged evolutionary age of the universe). That gives you only 10110 attempts to get the order right. But to get even “half a chance,” you have to make 20400 attempts. In powers of 10, that’s about 10520 attempts, incomprehensibly beyond 10110.

You can’t get there from here! The debate about a natural or an evolutionary origin for life should be done. Only a simpleton or a liar would hang on to evolution in light of this analysis. (And we’ve just scratched the surface.)

But you can already glimpse the enormity of faith demanded by the high priests of evolution.

These mathematical impossibilities regarding a chance chemical origin of life are well known, but do not show up in museum displays, biology textbooks, or TV propaganda about evolution. There was a famous conference at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia in 1966 where a number of physical scientists and engineers challenged evolutionary biologists on just these issues. (See Meyer’s book, Chapter 9.) The only reasonable counter-argument that was made was a speculation that perhaps a fairly large number of different amino acid sequences could still fold into a given functional protein, or perhaps into some other functional protein.

Experiments in the 1980s by MIT biochemist Robert Sauer and in the 1990s by Cambridge researcher Douglas Axe laid this desperate speculation to rest. While a given protein may indeed allow some amino substitutions and still function, and while additional substitutions might serve some other useful protein function, the ratio of useful to non-useful permutations is still hopeless. Axe determined for a particular 150-amino acid protein that only about 1 in 1074 permutations would be able to fold into a stable 3-dimensional shape. Only some unknown fraction of these could correspond with biological utility.

It looks like Sauer and Axe have made the random chance job at least somewhat easier. After all, 1 in 1074 is a “lot more likely” than 1 in 20150. But let’s add back in a couple of necessary issues. Naturally produced mixtures of amino acids come equally in two mirror image forms: L and D. Only the “L” works in life. The odds of getting a 150-amino chain of strictly L-form are 1 in 2150, or about 1 in 1045. Also, even assuming we are working with only the right set of 20 useful amino acids, the chain must be a peptide-bond chain. Two aminos can hook together in different ways. The odds for / against the peptide bond are roughly 1 in 2 for each member of the chain. Thus we have another 1 in 1045 difficulty.

If we combine the above 1 in 1074 sequencing improbability for a small protein with just these two other “difficulties,” the resulting odds are 1 in 10164. Even the smallest and simplest possible single-celled organism has been estimated to require at least 250 unique proteins. Assuming they are all “small” at 150 amino acids, the multiplied improbability is 1 in 1041,000. Now, you can quibble with any particular aspect of such estimates. But if you quibble with the conclusion, I suspect you of ulterior motives.

The biochemistry of protein synthesis is well known. Amino acids do not naturally form chains. In the cell, RNA molecules use the ribosomes (enzymatic strucures) to lock amino acids in place while their neighbors are brought in and bonded. Once the protein is released, additional enzymes assist in folding the protein into the special 3-D structure required for its functionality.

About 120 different macro-molecules are involved in the synthesis of proteins, translating the messenger RNA sequence of bases into the proper amino acid sequence. Each of these macro-molecules is a precisely fashioned 3-D tool — far more intricate than any you would find in a master craftsman’s workshop. Defects in these tools — from mutations, for example — are the source of debilitating and tragic diseases.

The machinery of protein formation is magnificently complex. “Natural conditions” do not allow the formation of proteins, no matter how many millions, billions, or trillions of years you care to fantasize.

We ought to more humbly appreciate the awesome brilliance of our Creator, and determine what He wants us to do with the life He has given us.


Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell — DNA and the evidence for intelligent design, HarperOne, 2009.

– Dr. Dave

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