What is the Probability of Evolution Occurring Solely by Natural Means?-Part 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2001
A 1962 scientific symposium was held in part because of “a pretty widespread sense of dissatisfaction about what has come to be thought of as the accepted evolutionary theory…the so-called neo-Darwinian Theory….” Drs. Ankerberg and Weldon suggest that one of the hurdles evolutionary scientists must overcome is the overwhelming odds against evolution.

What is the Probability of Evolution Occurring Solely by Natural Means?—Part Four


Some scientists have postulated they may be able to find some evidence for life originating from non-life on some other planet. The reason for this is that it would give them circumstantial evidence that life could originate by evolutionary processes some­place else. (They have not found this evidence on Earth.) For example, I. S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan in their book, Intelligent Life in the Universe, have written: “…the dis­covery of life on one other planet—e.g., Mars—can, in the words of the American Physicist Philip Morrison, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘transform the origin of life from a miracle to a statistic.’”[1]

Thus, Nobelist Francis Crick, (like Hoyle cited earlier) thoroughly aware of the awe­some complexity of cellular life, and the extreme difficulty of explaining how such life could evolve in the short time scientists now realize was available on earth for evolution to take place, has advanced a theory he calls directed panspermia. His theory, outlined in the book Life Itself, advances the idea that an extraterrestrial civilization sent primi­tive life-forms to earth in a spaceship. Because there was enormous time required for interstellar travel, they sent primitive life capable of surviving the voyage and the condi­tions they would meet upon arriving on earth.

But this “solution” to the problem of origins only seems to push the issue back a notch. How did the advanced life that sent primitive life to our earth ever originate by chance processes? In fact, research indicates this scenario cannot resolve the prob­lem. For example, in the October 1969 issue of Nature magazine, Dr. Frank Salisbury of Utah State University, then on leave at the Division of Biomedical and Environmental Research at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, examined the chance of one of the most basic chemical reactions for the continuation of life taking place. This reaction involves the formation of a specific DNA molecule. (It is important to realize that Dr. Salisbury was assuming that life already existed. His calculations do not refer to the chance of the origin of life from dead matter—as we have seen, something infinitely more improbable—but to the continuance of life already existing.)

He calculated the chance of this molecule evolving on 1020 hospitable planets (i.e., having favorable atmospheric and biologic conditions). These one hundred, thousand, million, billion planets constitute at least 1,000 times more hospitable planets than the number many scientists have estimated could exist. Dr. Salisbury allows 4 billion years for the chance coming into existence of this molecule on all these planets. But remem­ber he is not speaking here of life as we know it—developed, intelligent living beings, or even of one single cell for that matter. He is only calculating the chance of this one appropriate DNA molecule.

He concluded that the chances of just this one tiny DNA molecule coming into exist­ence over four billion years, with conditions just right, on just one of these extremely large number of hospitable planets, including the earth, as one chance in 10415.[2] But this figure is also exceedingly beyond Borel’s law, which says that beyond a certain point, improbable events never happen, regardless of the time span involved. (Indeed, 1050 planets would pack the known universe with planets [so that no space exists be­tween them] and yet the chances that life could evolve from dead matter on any one of them are still beyond possibility.)[3]

Further, the problems associated with human life evolving from microscopic forms are at least as difficult as those of primitive life evolving from dead matter. Again, most scientists assume that the great amounts of time involved will cause highly improbable events to become virtually inevitable and thus solve the problem. But even noted scien­tist A.I. Oparin concedes that, “No serious quantitative arguments, however, are given in support of such conclusions.”[4]

All this may explain why many scientists who have examined this theory critically consider the “directed panspermia” hypothesis untenable, and do not feel it is a solu­tion to the problems we face. In Chance and Necessity, the outstanding French bio­chemist and Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod makes his case all life evolves by random means, yet he also says this:

When one ponders on the tremendous journey of evolution over the past 3 billion years or so, the progenous wealth of structures it has engendered, and the extraordinarily effective teleonomic performances of living beings, from bacteria to man, one may well find oneself beginning to doubt again whether all this could conceivably be the product of an enormous lottery presided over by natural selection, blindly picking the rare winners from among numbers drawn at utter random…. [Nevertheless, although] the miracle stands “explained”; it does not strike us as any less miraculous. As Francois Mauriac wrote, “What this professor says is far more incredible than what we poor Christians believe. This is true, just as it is true that there is no achieving a satisfactory mental image of certain abstractions in modern physics.”[5]

Although Monod believes that life arose by chance, he freely admits the chances of this happening before it occurred were virtually zero.[6] We can only be reminded of the statement by another Nobel Prize winning biologist, George Wald of Harvard Univer­sity: “One only has to concede the magnitude of the task to concede the possibility of the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are—as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation.”[7] Of course, Dr. Wald also thinks that time solves all problems: “Time is, in fact, the hero of the plot…. One only has to wait: time itself performs the miracles.”[8] Nevertheless, what this boils down to is a personal choice—faith if you will—to believe in what one freely admits is “impossible”—rather than to believe in creation by intelligent design. In considering all this, one is perhaps reminded of the quip of Mark Twain in his Life on the Mississippi, “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”

Nevertheless, Hoyle’s research partner, Chandra Wickramasinghe, has appropriately noted that it is not only creationism which relies on the supernatural. Evolution must also, since the probabilities of random formation of life are conceded to be so minus­cule as to necessitate a miracle making belief in spontaneous generation “tantamount to a theological argument.”[9]


  1. I. S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan, Intelligent Life in the Universe (San Francisco: Holden-Day, 1966), p. 358.
  2. Frank B. Salisbury, “Natural Selection and the Complexity of the Gene,” Nature, Vol. 224, 25 October 1969, pp. 342-343.
  3. James Coppedge, Director, Center for Probability Research in Biology, Northridge, California, personal conversation, cf. Coppedge, Evolution: Possible or Impossible, passim.
  4. A. I. Oparin, Life: Its Nature, Origin and Development (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1961), p. 31 from Wysong, The Creation-Evolution Controversy, p. 139.
  5. Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (New York: Vintage, 1971), 138-139. Pierre-Paul Grasse comments, “Directed by all-powerful selection, chance becomes a sort of providence, which, under the cover of atheism, is not named but which is secretly worshipped” (Grasse, p. 107).
  6. Monod, ibid., pp. 138-139.
  7. George Wald, “The Origin of Life,” p. 9.
  8. Ibid. p. 12.
  9. Cited in Norman L. Geisler, Creator in the Classroom – “Scopes 2”: The 1981 Ar­kansas Creation-Evolution Trial (Mieford, MI: Mott Media, 1982), p. 151.

Leave a Comment