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Did Life Begin by Chance?
=== By Holiness Swami Gaurangapada ==
To get some idea of what exactly is involved in speculating that life could have emerged by random combination of chemicals in a primordial soup, let us imagine that this soup covered the entire surface of the earth to a depth of one mile. We shall divide this volume into tiny cubes measuring one angstrom unit on each side. (An angstrom unit is about the size of a single hydrogen atom.) Letís also assume that the soup is extremely concentrated, so that reactions are taking place within each of the cubes within the soup. Now, in the expectation of obtaining the simplest possible self-reproducing organism, let the reactions take place a billion times per second in each cube. And letís further assume that the reactions have been going on for 4.5 billion years, the estimated age of the earth.
Letís begin by looking at the basic ingredient of all living organisms-proteins, which carry out many of the vital functions of the cell. Proteins are formed in a highly complex process that can be compared to a factory assembly line, where raw materials are organized with the help of specialized machines. The elaborate protein macromolecules contain an average of 300 amino acid molecules linked in a chain, and within even the simplest E. coli bacteria there are approximately 2,000 different types of proteins. (In mammals there are 800 times as many.) The formation of these different protein molecules is controlled by the cellís genetic material. According to a mechanistic model, prior to the development of a self-reproducing system capable of performing the basic functions of a cell and its genetic coding, any combining of amino acids into proteins would have necessarily been due to random interaction.
To determine the probability of random interaction resulting in the proteins required for even the simplest cell, the noted British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle and mathematician Chandra Wickramasinghe, of University College, Cardiff, Wales, calculated as follows. As already mentioned, there are 2,000 different proteins necessary for the single-celled E. coli bacteria, and these proteins average 300 amino-acid units in length. The function of a particular protein depends upon the sequential order of its 300 or so amino-acid units, just as the meaning of a paragraph depends on the order of its words. Since there are 20 amino-acid types to choose from, the odds of forming any particular protein sequence is 20 to the power of 300 to 1.
Scientists have pointed out that there is some latitude for variation in the exact sequence of the 300 amino acid units without disrupting the proteinís performance. Therefore Hoyle and Wickramasinghe [Evolution from Space (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), pp. 23-27] generously adjusted the 20 to the power of 300 to 1 probability to 10 to the power of 20 to 1-a tremendous reduction in the odds. Then, since the simplest cell requires 2,000 different proteins to operate, they combined these two figures (10 to the power of 20 and 2,000) and arrived at a mathematical probability of 10 to the power of 40,000 to 1 that random interaction could provide the necessary molecules for constructing even the simplest self-reproducing system. These odds are so incredibly great that no one could reasonably expect such an event to occur in the relatively brief few billion years that scientists allow for the phenomenon. So much for pure chance (10 to the power of 40,000 to 1 or more). But if out of extreme generosity we reduce the required number of proteins from 2,000 to only 100, then the probability is still 1 in 10 to the power of 2,000.
Now, if you add up all the possible attempted billion-per-second combinations in our hypothetical primordial soup, you wind up with only 10 to the power of 74 throws of the chemical dice. That means the odds of getting the required self-reproducing system out of our soup would be 1 in 10 to the power of 1,926. We wouldnít expect that to happen in the entire course of the earthís history even if the future is taken into consideration!
Of course, a diehard gambler and mental speculator who is bent upon rejecting the existence of God as the source of creation and life might say that even though it is highly unlikely it could just have happened by chance. But this is a completely meaningless use of the word chance. In order for a statement about an event with a nonzero probability of happening to be meaningful, we would have to observe enough repetitions of the event to establish a statistical pattern. If there is no possibility of performing these trials even in billions or trillions of years (as is certainly the case here with the probability of 1 in 10 to the power 2000 in the least), then there is no meaning to saying an event happens with such a very small infinitesimal probability or even has a chance to happen in the history of creation. It will be simply fiction to state and believe this.
The Nobel laureate Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA structure, stated, "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going." [Francis Crick, Life Itself (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), p. 88.] He said that the origin of life is a miracle but he did not explain whose miracle. If it is a miracle, there has to be miracle maker behind it. And that is God. Crick himself also has proposed that the genetic code may have been carried to earth by intelligent life from another planetary system. This concept could account for life on earth, but we are then left to explain how life developed elsewhere on other planets.
So although vast numbers of people believe that science has substantial evidence "proving" the idea that the first living entities were produced from the random interaction of chemicals in the earthís distant past, it is clear that there exists no viable theory of the chemical origin of life. Furthermore, the mathematical theory of probability does not allow us to use the convenient explanation "It happened by chance."
And assuming that even then if this concocted use of the word "chance" is accepted, then the question remains about where did the original primordial soul or mass come from? Thus the use of the word "chance" is just a convenient way to cover the ignorance of the scientists about the origin of life and creation and to reject the acceptance of the superior intelligence of God as the cause of life and creation.
So if this theory of chance and probability of a material chemical combination is rejected due to the above obvious reasons, one has to accept the cause of a superior intelligence behind the creation of life and the universe. We will discuss the detailed Vedic and spiritual process of life and creation in detail in further essays but certainly, the secrets of the life and universe cannot be unfolded by the tiny brains of material scientists who audaciously consider the factual spiritual science of life, soul, God and His creation as dogmatic.
We should agree without a doubt that man's vision in all directions is extremely limited by the inadequacies of his senses, his technology and his intellect. None can deny the existence of the supreme scientist and creator of life, Lord Shri Gauranga-Krishna. He is the proprietor and knower of everything. Lord Krishna says: "O son of Pritha, know that I am the original seed giving father of all existences and creation, the intelligence of the intelligent, and the prowess of all powerful men [Bg. 7.10] ... "O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, just as pearls are strung on a thread." [Bg. 7.7]Ö "I am the source of all spiritual and material planets. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly factually know this truth engage in My devotional service by chanting My Holy Names and worship Me with all their hearts." [Bg. 10.8] Thus only fools would argue about the existence of the superior intelligence of the Lord .
Therefore, instead of denying and challenging the existence of the supreme scientist, Lord Gauranga-Krishna or God, it should be the prime duty of all our scientist friends to appreciate the inconceivable brain of the Lord and His wonderful manifestations everywhere. One may claim the credit for the discovery for so many modern tools, but the fact is that the ingredients were already there in the Lord's creation. We just assemble them and we take the credit. A carpenter cannot claim proprietorship over a cupboard which he makes from the wood provided by the owner. Similarly Shri Isopanishad says: "Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe has originated from and is controlled and owned by the Supreme Lord and due credit to should be given to Him." And God's existence should not be denied simply by use of the convenient words - "by chance".
References: The Origin Magazine.