Grant Them an Infinity of Planets and They Still Cannot Explain Life or Mind

Those who wish to claim a natural origin for earthly life are in vastly worse shape than you might think from listening to their smug brags. For example, inside the human body are more than 20,000 different types of protein molecules, each a different type of "just right" complex invention with the information complexity of a 20-line or 30-line computer software subroutine (or something even more complex).  In the animal kingdom there are vastly more different types of protein molecules than the 8 million different types of protein molecules that have already been sequenced.   Evolutionary theory offers no credible explanation for such complex innovations, the complexity of which was unknown to Darwin. As Harvard scientists have stated, "A wide variety of protein structures exist in nature, however the evolutionary origins of this panoply of proteins remain unknown." 

Faced with such difficulties, theorists may resort to desperate measures such as appealing to the possibility of some vast unobservable reality called a multiverse. In the scientific journal Nature there was recently published a paper entitled “Emergence of Life in an Inflationary Universe.” Although the multiverse-hawking paper by Tomonori Totani tries to salvage the groundless hypothesis of abiogenesis (the idea that life can arise from mere lifeless chemicals), the paper inadvertently suggests that such a hypothesis is enormously unbelievable.

The author introduces us to the RNA World hypothesis. This is a hypothesis contrived to make the origin of life from chemicals (abiogenesis) seem almost infinitely easier than it would actually be. Any actual living thing would consist of at the very least a cell. Cells are the basis of all living things. The simplest self-reproducing cell would require many types of protein molecules.

A team of 9 scientists wrote a scientific paper entitled, “Essential genes of a minimal bacterium.” It analyzed a type of bacteria (Mycoplasma genitalium) that has “the smallest genome of any organism that can be grown in pure culture.” According to wikipedia's article, this bacteria has 525 genes consisting of 580,070 base pairs. The paper concluded that 382 of this bacteria's protein-coding genes (72 percent) are essential. So multiplying that 580,070 by 72 percent, we get a figure of about 418,000 base pairs in the genome that are essential functionality. This is all information that must be arranged in just the right way for the tiny microbe to be capable of self-reproduction. The simplest living thing would require hundreds of different types of protein molecules, and each one of those protein molecules would be a complex invention with many parts that has to be just right. 

There is no reasonable chance that such fine-tuned complexity could have arisen accidentally. There is no way to reach such a result gradually. If by chance one of these protein molecules were to accidentally arise, that would do no good, because that would give you less than 1% of the functionality needed for the self-reproduction of a cell. There would be absolutely nothing in nature that would cause 1% or 2% or 5% or 10% of what was needed for a self-reproducing cell to be preserved if such a fraction were to accidentally arise. You would need to have everything needed for self-reproduction for life to get started.

To try and escape such a seemingly insuperable difficulty, the RNA World hypothesis was introduced. The idea is to imagine a mere self-reproducing RNA molecule that is not a cell and does not have any proteins, and to call such a hypothetical thing a beginning of life. After presenting such an idea, someone can say, “Look, it's not so hard for life to arise.”

The RNA World hypothesis does not work. Since cells are the basis of all life, and since a mere molecule making copies of itself would not contain any cell, such a molecule should not be considered an example of life originating. If such a self-reproducing RNA molecule were to originate, it would be a biological dead end. There would be no credible natural path of progression leading from such a thing to a living thing consisting of a self-reproducing cell. A self-reproducing molecule would no more be a living thing than a self-reproducing soap bubble (tending to split up into two other soap bubbles) would be a living thing.

We can compare the RNA World hypothesis to a man suggesting that it is possible for cars to self-assemble in a car factory where there are no workers and no assembly robots. The man's scheme might go like this: contrary to all sense, he defines a car as any two wheels connected by an axle. He then proposes a mathematical model by which every billion years or so an earthquake or a tornado might cause an axle in an unoccupied automobile factory to become accidentally connected to wheels. This, the man claims, would be an accidental construction of a car. Of course, this scheme is nonsense. Two wheels connected by an axle is not something we should be calling a car, and there is no accidental path leading from such a thing to an actual car. Similarly, a self-reproducing RNA molecule would not be a living thing, since it would not have a cell. And there could be no accidental progression from such an RNA molecule to a self-reproducing cell.

In their excellent recent paper "Using statistical methods to model the fine-tuning of molecular machines and systems," which discusses quite a few things relevant to the discussion of this post, Steinar Thorvaldsen and Ola Hossjer state the following about one scientist's calculation of the probability of a transistion from the RNA World scenario to a  "proteins and cells" level of life:

"Eugene Koonin...has made a theoretical study of the path from a putative RNA world to an explicit translation system (like a 'DNA-protein world'). He found this path to be incredibly steep (Koonin 2012, p. 376), even under the best-case scenario."

We are told in Thorvaldsen and Hossjer's paper that Koonin calculated that the chance of such a transition occurring would be less than 1 in 10 to the thousandth  power.  That's less than the chance of you correctly guessing the telephone numbers of 100 consecutve strangers. 

A self-replicating RNA molecule would consist of many nucleotide building blocks aranged in just the right way. But no experiment realistically simulating the early Earth has ever even produced a nucleotide.  Some of these experiments have produced nitrogenous bases, but such things are mere fragments of nucleotides. 

In his paper Totani lets us know about some reasons for thinking that the there is no reasonable chance that a self-reproducing RNA molecule could have appeared. Totani delves into the question of how improbable an accident would be necessary for a self-reproducing RNA molecule to arise. In an article on describing Totani's paper, we read, “Researchers think that in order for RNA to perform its essential function of copying itself, it needs to be composed of a chain of nucleotides longer than 40 to 60 nucleotides.” But we also read that none of the experiments designed to form RNA molecules from nucleotides could consistently produce RNA molecules longer than 10 nucleotides. Similarly, if you write a computer program designed to simulate random key pressing such as a monkey might perform, your program will be able to produce a real word after maybe 1000 trials. But the chance of getting a 7-word grammatical sentence would require something like trillions of trials; and your program would never produce an intelligible paragraph if you let it run your entire lifetime. 

We read the following in the article discussing Totani's paper:

But researchers have found that the random formation of RNA with a length greater than 40 is incredibly unlikely given the number of stars — with habitable planets — in our cosmic neighborhood. There are too few stars with habitable planets in the observable universe for abiogenesis to occur within the timeframe of life emerging on Earth.”

The reality underlying that statement is a very big deal for several reasons. For one thing, it means that all SETI efforts to search for life by radio telescopes should be absolutely fruitless and should yield no result, under the assumptions of materialism and an accidental origin of life. For another thing, it means that the RNA World scenario is an utter flop as an attempt to explain how life could have naturally originated. If your theory requires luck greater than we would ever expect to occur in the observable universe, your theory is a dismal failure. Since abiogenesis (the accidental origin of life from chemicals) would actually require complexity vastly greater than a mere self-reproducing RNA molecule (which would not be a living thing any more than a self-reproducing soap bubble is a living thing), the actual situation is very much worse for an abiogenesis theorist than suggested by the quote above.

In his paper Totani tries to salvage this explanatory disaster. What he very desperately resorts to is a multiverse appeal to a vast number of unseen galaxies outside of the observable universe, a number more than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times greater than the number of galaxies in the observable universe.  The observable universe contains no more than about 10 to the twentieth power sun-like stars. But Totani tells us, "Our universe, created by a single inflation event, likely includes more than 10100 Sun-like stars." There is no scientific basis for thinking that so many  unobservable galaxies and unobservable stars exist. 

To try to give some justification for appealing to unobservable galaxies, Totani appeals to the cosmic inflation theory. Having a very confusing name, the cosmic inflation theory is often confused with the Big Bang theory, but it is really just a variation of the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory makes the very general assertion that the universe started to expand from an incredibly hot and dense beginning 13 billion years ago. The cosmic inflation theory makes a very specific claim that during a tiny fraction of the universe's first second, the universe underwent a burst of “exponential expansion” in which the expansion rate was vastly greater than at any time in the universe's history. You can believe in the Big Bang theory without accepting the theory of cosmic inflation.

The cosmic inflation theory was invented to explain away apparent fine-tuning in the Big Bang, such as extremely precise fine-tuning of the universe's initial expansion rate. Scientists were bothered that the Big Bang theory seemed to require that the initial expansion rate of the universe had to be fine-tuned to something like 1 part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to end up with a universe like we now have. To alleviate their discomfort at this fine-tuning, the cosmic inflation theory was invented. If this theory were simple, we might categorize it as a design avoidance device, since the main purpose of the cosmic inflation theory is to avoid or evade what seems to be evidence of design in the universe's birth. But since the cosmic inflation theory is a very complicated contrivance, it is more descriptive for us to categorize it as a design avoidance contraption. A contraption is some very complicated thing which seems ugly because of a lack of simplicity.

If you doubt that the cosmic inflation theory should be called a contraption, just look at the scientific paper here, where it is made clear that the cosmic inflation theory requires not just one type of fine-tuning, but six very specific types of fine-tuning. So we have here an attempt to explain away a case of fine-tuning, by introducing a theory that itself requires quite a few types of fine-tuning. 

There is no observational basis for believing in this cosmic inflation theory. Because of what is called the recombination era that hopelessly scattered all light from the earliest millenia of the universe's history, there is no possibility of ever observing events that occurred before about 300,000 years after the Big Bang (ruling out any possibility of ever observing exponential cosmic inflation in the universe's first instants).  In a statement quoted in, Totani claims that in cosmology “it is agreed the universe underwent a period of rapid inflation, producing a vast region of expansion beyond the horizon of what we can directly observe.” There is no such agreement among cosmologists, and some major cosmologists reject such a claim. The idea of proclaiming some incredibly extravagant speculation is true because it is popular among some tiny group of theorists is counter to good scientific practice. A few decades ago string theory and supersymmetry theory were popular among particle physicists, but there was never any evidence for them. And there is no evidence that “the universe underwent a period of rapid inflation, producing a vast region of expansion beyond the horizon of what we can directly observe.” In fact, there are recent reasons for rejecting such a claim. It is interesting that a very recent scientific paper is entitled, "Cosmic Discordance: Planck and luminosity distance data exclude LCDM." The authors claim that their analysis "excludes a flat universe," the main thing predicted by the inflationary cosmology Totani appeals to.  Also, a recent observational study provides a strong reason for thinking the early universe was rotating, contrary to the predictions of the cosmic inflation theory. 

While Totani tries to suggest there is some agreement among cosmologists regarding whether "the universe underwent a period of rapid inflation," the actual truth is that this idea of an instant of exponential expansion in the very early universe has spawned countless different sub-theories, and such a proliferation of theoretical speculations is not an actual consensus. 

But for the sake of being charitable, let us imaginatively grant Totani all the extra galaxies that he might wish for in his desperate attempt to salvage the respectability of the idea of abiogenesis. We may imaginatively grant such thinkers an infinity of galaxies and an infinity of planets. Under such an assumption, would it then be true that such thinkers can say that they have an explanation for life and for mind? Absolutely not. Materialist thinkers do not have any  credible explanation for life or for mind, even if they assume that there are an infinite number of planets.  They certainly do not have an explanation for life in the concept of so-called natural selection, such a term being a not-literally-accurate phrase that refers to a mere filtering effect (not actually choosing or selection) that has no real creative power.  As the leading botantist Hugo de Vries stated:

"Natural selection is a sieve. It creates nothing, as is so often assumed; it only sifts." 

Let us imagine that there exists an infinite number of planets. Presumably then any combination of atoms could occur, no matter how improbable. So with such an infinity of planets there might arise by chance any of the proteins that now exist in the human genome. There might exist all kinds of fantastically improbable organisms, appearing by a chance combination of atoms.  But this would still not mean that life and mind would be well explained. There would still be four gigantic shortfalls:
  1. There would still be a failure to explain anything vastly improbable that occurred in the history of life on Earth. 
  2. There would still be a failure to explain human reproduction and morphogenesis.
  3. There would still be a failure to explain human minds, self-conscious minds that can think and imagine and reason, minds that have a unified self-identity.
  4. There would still be a failure to explain human memory.
Given an infinity of planets, there would still be a failure to explain anything vastly improbable that occurred in the history of life on Earth, such as the origin of a self-reproducing cell from random chemical combinations, or the formation of complex fine-tuned functional proteins from random mutations. You explain something that occurred on planet Earth when you make observations inextricably linking the two things (such as a video showing a meteor making a crater), or when you discuss some causal reason why the thing was likely to occur on planet Earth. You do not explain something by discussing some situation under which one such thing would be likely to occur somewhere in an infinity of space.  For example, if you leave your teenage son at your home while you go on a trip for 10 days, and then come back to find your son has drawn turtles on every square foot of the walls and ceiling of your home, you do not explain such behavior by saying that such a thing would occur at least once given an infinity of planets.  You would only explain such a thing if you produced some observation showing what caused it, or gave some reason why your son was likely to behave in such behavior.  Claiming that things can be explained by saying "they would happen once if there is a multiverse" is a wacky perversion of the whole notion of explanation. 

Now let us consider human reproduction and morphogenesis. We have no real understanding of how a speck-sized egg is able to progress to become a full-sized human. Nowhere in a human being is there stored a specification of how to make a human being. Contrary to the misinformation that is often taught when people claim that DNA is some kind of blueprint or recipe for making a human, DNA contains no such thing. DNA (the same as the human genome) merely contains low-level chemical information, the type of chemical information needed to construct microscopic molecules. DNA does not specify the overall body plan of a human being, does not specify how to make any of the organs or appendages of a human being, and does not specify how to make any of the 200 types of cells of a human being. See this post for quotes by quite a few mainstream biology authorities stating that DNA is not a blueprint or a recipe for making a human. 

So how is it that a speck-sized egg is able to progress to become a full-sized human? We do not understand this profound mystery. Until we understand that, we cannot claim that we understand biological life, and have no business claiming that we understand the origin of the human species or claiming that we really understand the origin of any single human. 

Could we somehow get around this difficulty by imagining an infinity of planets? Not at all. I can imagine a type of human being that  might be self-reproducing, and which might have within itself a full explanation for how such self-reproduction occurs. Such a type of human being would be vastly different from an actual human. It might have stored within it a vast database fully listing the instructions for how to assemble a full-sized human. Such instructions might have complex assembly algorithms for each type of cell and each type of organ and each type of appendage in the human body. Such a type of human being might also have all kinds of complicated machinery for reading such complex instructions, and for building a biological organism exactly like itself. We can imagine a human with all kinds of specialized construction tools within itself for building a human, just as we can imagine a complex self-reproducing robot with very many built-in tools it could use to make a copy of itself. Given infinite combinations of atoms that might occur given an eternal length of time, and an infinity of planets, we might expect just such self-reproducing robots might accidentally arise, and that just such organisms with everything needed for their self-reproduction might arise.

The problem is that such a possibility is irrelevant, because it does not match what we actually know about humans. A human being is no such thing as the exotic possibility I just described. A human being does not have within it any instructions for making a human body, any human organ, or any of the 200 types of very complex cells used by humans (DNA being no such thing). Nor does a human have within itself anything capable of reading and acting on such fantastically complicated instructions if they happened to exist. So the possibility just discussed (something that might occur given an infinite number of atom combinations) cannot be the explanation for how humans are able to reproduce.

So how is it that human reproduction is able to occur? Materialists have no credible explanation. Even if they assume an infinity of planets, they will not overcome this difficulty.  Given the known limitations of the human body, and its lack of any specification for making a human being, there is no hope of explaning how there could be a progression from a tiny speck-sized egg to a full-grown human. No amount of previous luck (arising from an infinity of planets) can get you out of this difficulty. 

Consider also the human mind. We have no understanding of how any possible arrangement of matter would ever produce a self-conscious mind.  Let us imagine some machine capable of arranging atoms in endless variety. If such a machine were to operate for an eternity of time, we still would not expect that any particular arrangement of atoms would produce an intelligent self-conscious mind.  There is no understanding of how neurons can produce a mind, and no understanding of how any other arrangement of matter could produce a mind. 

Consider also the question of memory. The two most hard-to-explain facts about memory (given human biology) are the following:

(1) the fact that humans can instantaneously remember a vast number of obscure pieces of information learned many years ago;
(2) the fact that humans can remember things accurately for more than 50 years. 

The explanatory problem is that given the organization of the human brain, nothing of the sort should be possible. The brain has no known capability for writing learned information, and no known capability for reading learned information.  There is no known system by which the brain encodes learned information into neural states or synapses states, nor can we even credibly imagine such a system given the known limitations of the brain and brain tissue. It has never been proven that any learned information has ever been written to a brain and stored for even a few months. We know that synapses (claimed by some to be a storage place of memories) are short-lived things; for example, the paper here suggests the half-life of a synapse is "days to months," and the paper here tells us that synapses turnover at a rate of about 7% per week. We know that the proteins that make up synapses have very short lifetimes of only a few weeks.  No one has any understanding of how a brain could even store a memory for two years, let alone 50 years.  The brain has nothing like what we see in computer systems that allow permanent long-term storage and instantaneous recall of stored information.  Indeed, given the multiple types of severe signal noise and relatively slow signal transmission in brains, caused by things such as synaptic delays, an instant recall of information should be impossible if the information is read from brains. 

It is true that if there were an infinite number of planets, there might accidentally arise some organisms that would have physical biological equipment suitable for instant recall and 50-year memories. We can imagine organisms with some very different type of information storage system, perhaps one resembling a computer system.  In such organisms, the instantaneous recall of 50-year old memories might be explicable. 

But the problem is, we are not any such organisms. So such a possibility (something that might arise from an infinity of planets) does not do any good with the problem of explaining human memory. 

I can group the problems of explaining life and mind into two broad general categories:

Mathematical improbability problems. Human beings have very many known extremely complex and fine-tuned physical innovations that we would never expect any organism to have accidentally acquired, most notably more than 20,000 fine-tuned types of protein molecules, each of which is a very complex invention fantastically unlikely to have appeared through any known biological process, and also 200 types of very complex super-organized cells, none of which we would expect to have arisen though chance processes. Since unconscious nature would not actually select things, such fine-tuned innovations are not explained by the not-literally-accurate phrase "natural selection," which is just a misnomer term used for the vacuous idea of "survival of the fittest," a mere "survivors survive more" idea that is not any real theory of biological organization explaining why fantastically improbable fine-tuned arrangements of matter would occur. 

Bodily insufficiency problems. Some of the most fundamental aspects of life and mind (human reproduction, consciousness, self-hood, imagination, abstract thinking, instantaneous formation of permanent memories, instantaneous memory recall and 50-year memory preservation) are not credibly explained by any material things that exist in human bodies. Humans have biological things sufficient to explain pregnancy, but not the progression from a speck-sized human egg to a full-sized newborn baby. 

It does not actually help remove problems of the first type if you imagine an infinity of planets, because you do not explain something merely by showing that it would occur once given an infinite number of trials.  And even if you imagine such an infinity of planets or an eternity of time, it would not help you escape the mountainous difficulties in the second of these categories. 

So even if we grant our materialistic thinkers an infinity of planets, that still will not make them people who can explain life or mind. Even with an infinite number of planets, such thinkers will still be people making a futile attempt to explain life and mind as bottom-up effects bubbling up from arrangements of molecules. The only way to credibly explain life and mind is to postulate that they are both top-down effects arising from some reality higher than mere material bodies. We can only have our bodies with so many levels of vast organization because of some organizational principle beyond anything biology professors postulate.  We can only have our minds and memory capabilities because of some source of mind beyond anything biology professors postulate. 

The idea that both life and mind are top-down effects arising from some mysterious external reality is necessary because of the many severe failures of bottom-up explanations.  But such an idea may seem unthinkable merely because we have been "bottom-up brainwashed" all our lives to believe that life and mind must be bottom-up effects with a merely molecular explanation. To gain some insight on how we have been conditioned to favor a bad type of explanation, let us consider a hypothetical planet rather different from our own: a planet in which the atmosphere is much thicker, and always filled with clouds that block the sun. 

Let's give a name to this perpetually cloudy planet in another solar system, and call this imaginary entity planet Evercloudy.  Let's imagine that the clouds are so thick on planet Evercloudy that its inhabitants have never seen their sun.  The scientists on this planet might ponder two basic questions:

(1) What causes daylight on planet Evercloudy?
(2) How is it that planet Evercloudy stays warm enough for life to exist?

Having no knowledge of their sun, the top-down explanation for these phenomena, the scientists would probably come up with very wrong answers. They would probably speculate that daylight and planetary warmth are bottom-up effects.  They might spin all kinds of speculations such as hypothesizing that daylight comes from photon emissions from rocks and dirt, and that their planet was warm because of heat bubbling up from the hot center of their planet.  By issuing such unjustified speculations, such scientists would be like the scientists on our planet who wrongly think that life and mind can be explained as bottom-up effects bubbling up from molecules. 

Facts on planet Evercloudy would present very strong reasons for rejecting such attempts to explain daylight and warm temperatures on planet Evercloudy as bottom-up effects. For one thing, there would be the fact of nightfall, which could not easily be reconciled with any such explanations. Then there would be the fact that the dirt and rocks at the feet below the scientists of Evercloudy would be cold, not warm as would be true if such a bottom-up theory of daylight and planetary warmth were correct.  But we can easily believe that the scientists on planet Evercloudy would just ignore such facts, just as scientists on our planet ignore a huge number of facts arguing against their claims of a bottom-up explanation for life and mind (facts such as the fact that people are just as smart and still maintain their memories when you remove half of their brains in hemispherectomy operations, the fact that the proteins in synapses have very short lifetimes, the fact that people who lost the great majority of their brains due to disease can be above average intelligence, and the fact that the human body contains no blueprint or recipe for making a human, DNA being no such thing). 

Just as the phenomena of daylight and planetary warmth on planet Evercloudy could never credibly be explained as bottom-up effects, but could be credibly explained as effects coming from some mysterious unseen reality unknown to the scientists of planet Evercloudy who had never seen their sun, the phenomena of life and mind on planet Earth can never be credibly explained as bottom-up effects coming from mere molecules, but may one day be explained as top-down effects coming from some mysterious unknown reality we cannot currently fathom.