Can life form by chance on other planets?

by Matt Slick

There has been no proof revealed to the general public that alien life exists.  Of course, there are UFOs and people who say they have been abducted by aliens.  Though it seems incontrovertible that something is happening, the question is what are UFO's?  Are they actual aliens that have evolved on other planets, or are they demonic manifestations?  From a Christian worldview, the question is important.  Nevertheless, the probability of life forming by chance anywhere in the universe is mathematically null.  This is because there is a theoretical maximum to the number of events that could have occurred in the entire universe, and the odds of life forming by chance are so far beyond that limit that it's equivalent to being zero.  Let me illustrate.

In short, if the universe were 18 billion years old (which is far older than present scientists say) that would convert to approximately 1016 seconds.  There are approximately 1080 particles in the universe and the maximum rate they can change their state is 1040 times per second.  We then take 1016 x 1080 x 1040 which leaves a theoretical total of 10136 as the maximum number of possible events that could have occurred in the history of our universe if it were as old as 18 billion years.  In other words 10136 is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,0 0,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 events.  Pretty big isn't it?

DNA, which is the building block of life, consists of a single strand of four nucleotide bond pairs arranged in two sets of two.  It is like a ladder that is twisted, and each step in the ladder is a nucleotide bond pair.  There are only two bond pairs to work with.  So, for the sake of simplicity, that would be like having a black step and white step.  But DNA has thousands upon thousands of these steps that must be arranged in a certain pattern in order for it to produce information so that it can build biological structures that are capable of life.  It is like having a ladder 250 miles long, and every foot there is a step and every step must be arranged in a specific way compared to all the other steps in order for life to occur (that isn't including a system that reads the DNA code - which only further complicates things).  Again, to maintain simplicity, when determining the mathematical odds of an arrangement of items in a sequence (steps along a ladder) you can use what's called factoring.  So, if there are two steps, how many ways can they be arranged?  That would be 2 x 1 = 2.  If there were three then it would be 3 x 2 x 1 = 6.  If there were four it would be 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24, and so on.  But the DNA molecule has many thousands of these bond-pairs, or "steps."  To illustrate, only 1000 "steps" would be 1000 x 999 x 998 x 997 x996 .... x 3 x 2 x 1 = 102,568 possible arrangements.1  That would mean that it exceeds the maximum number of possible events in the entire universe by 102,432.  102,568 - 10136 which is 102,432.   And that is just 1000 "steps"!  Here's a listing of some of the combination values so you can get an idea of their incredible size.

  • 100 "steps" can be arranged in = 10158, that is a 1 with 158 zeroes behind it.
  • 250 = 10493 "steps" can be arranged in = 10498, that is a 1 with 493 zeroes behind it.
  • 500 = 101,135
  • 1,000 = 102,568
  • 5,000 = 1016,326
  • 10,000 = 1035,660
  • 50,000 = 10213,237
  • 100,000 = 10456,574

This listing is very simplified, but I hope it illustrates the mathematical complexity involved when dealing with the formation of information structures by naturalistic means.  Think about it.  DNA has thousands of these "steps," and the mathematical odds are so immense against the proper formation of information that makes life possible that it simply can't happen. 

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About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.