Calculating the Odds of life

Determining the odds of life is extremely difficult. Moreover, we have no definition for the word impossible. At what point do odds become so large that we must confess that they are impossible? Fortunately I think I have come up with a plausible definition for the word impossible. I was actually rather amazed but scientists are confident that they can determine the number of atoms in the universe, 10^80. We also know roughly how many seconds have elapsed in the history of the universe, 10^17, however it would be anthrocentric to assume that particles are bound by human time, so let’s split a second into a thousand parts, a millisecond, which will then make that number 10^20. These two numbers will serve as our guide to determine the impossible.
In determining life’s odds we face many difficulties, for example, how do you determine the odds of certain billiard balls in constant motion hitting one another and landing in certain pockets? That would be extraordinarily difficult. Fortunately, if we tilt the odds in favor of randomness and if the odds are still ridiculously large, we can assume that longer odds also cannot be hit. We know, for example, how many DNA base pairs exist in the Mycoplasma Mycoides which was the bacteria reconstructed by a team of twenty scientists headed by Hamilton Smith, which is roughly 600,000. It is somewhat complicated how DNA pairs link up, for example, A can only link to T and G can only link to C, but the combination AT and ATA are both possible. So for the purposes of this experiment we will simplify matters and say that there are only two possibilities AT or GC, or heads and tails. Again, we are vastly oversimplifying things because just to get the nucleotide Adenine (A), we need to get five carbon to link with five Hydrogen to link with five Nitrogen. So let’s just imagine that for life to occur these base DNA pairs must be placed in a precise sequence. I’m sure some mistakes are possible and that perhaps only 90% need be in a precise sequence but whatever that threshold is, it is most likely near 100%, in any case as you will soon see, it does not matter. What we will now do is determine the odds of a coin being flipped heads 600,000 times in a row. Then we will imagine that we have as many coins as there are atoms in the Universe and we will flip them once per millisecond. For something to be possible the odds of it happening must be near one to one provided we flipped 10^80 coins an amount times equal to the number of milliseconds that have elapsed in the Universe which is 10^20. So what are the odds of flipping a coin heads 600,000 times in a row? I had a tough time determining this but luckily Excel was able to calculate the odds of flipping a coin heads 500 times in a row. There is a pattern between flipping a coin heads 200, 300, 400 and 500 times in a row.

Odds of flipping a coin heads

100 = 1 in 1.27 * 10^30
200 = 1 in 1.61 * 10^60
300 = 1 in 2.04 * 10^90
400 = 1 in 2.58 * 10^120

So 100 times in a row is one in ten followed by 30 zeroes, 200 is one in ten followed by 60 zeroes, we will ignore the 1.27 and the 1.61 as they are not important, only the number of zeroes is important. So if the odds increase by 30 zeroes for every 100 flips, what are the odds if you try to flip a coin 600,000 in a row?

(600,000/100) * 30 = 180,000

To simplify things we will use the number googol which is one followed by one hundred zeroes. I never thought I would have a need for this number in my life but apparently I do. So the odds of flipping a coin 600,000 times in a row is one in 1800 googols.

Now, is it rational to expect that lottery to be hit given the number of events at our disposal? It is somewhat rational to expect to hit a lottery if the odds are one in 50 and we play 25 times. But if the odds are one in a million and we play 1,000 times, then we are stupid. If we are able to play this lottery with an equal amount of atoms in the Universe multiplied by the number of milliseconds that have elapsed since the beginning of time, how many times is that? If you multiply 10^80 by 10^20, you simply get 10^100 which is one googol.

The relation of one googol to 1800 googols is nothing like the relation of a million to a billion. Let me try to explain how difficult it is to get one googol to approach 1800 googols through mere multiplication. Let us imagine that we have a very strong, emotional attachment to atheism. Let’s imagine that we’ve spent 5000 hours defending it, writing books about it, attending conferences, and attacking theists. Let’s pretend that we have invested a lot of time, energy and money into spreading the “gospel” of atheism. Let’s say that to deny atheism is to admit that we have been living a mistake for much of our life and all that we have done has been wasted. To do this would be to undergo immense pain and to confess we are wrong. No human wants to undergo pain and confess they’re wrong, especially when there is little or no tangible reward. So let’s use our brains to tilt the odds in our favor. Instead of using thousandths of seconds, let’s use billionths of seconds. In that case, we have 10^26 seconds at our disposal. The odds then barely change, we now have 1.06 googols to hit a number somewhere between 1 and 1800 googols, whereas before we only had one googol. Ok, let’s just say that the scientists are wrong and that there are a million times more atoms then they previously thought, that means we have 10^86 atoms, instead of 10^80. Now we only have 1.12 googols. Now let’s imagine that the simplest life form is not made of 600,000 base dna pairs but only 300,000. That will reduce 1800 googols to 900 googols. Now let’s imagine that are as many universes are there are stars in our universe, that brings the number from 1.12 googols to 1.34 googols. (There are 10^22 stars in the universe.) Ok, let’s be real desperate and let’s say that instead there are as many universes as there are atoms in the universe, surely that will help things, again now we only have 1.92 googols (1.12 googols + .8 googols equals 1.92 googols).
Now let’s take a look at what happens when we try to increase the odds against atheism. Let’s imagine that instead of two possibilities, TA and GC that there are four possibilities. After all, here is one possible DNA seqeunce: ATCGATTGAGCTCTAGCG. As you can see TT is a possible combination. Well if that happens then the odds become one in 3600 googols. What if we had to calculate the odds of forming one Adenine nucleobase, even if the odds are one in two, that turns 3600 googols into 7200 googols. The point of this argument is not to arrive at an exact calculation for the odds of life forming at random, but to show that the atheists can only tilt the odds in their favor arithmetically and the theists can tilt the odds in their favor exponentially.
The standard response to the above argument is to say that objects have properties and that because of their properties they naturally link to one another. (Notice that I did not say that they are designed to link to one another). There is some truth to this argument, for example, wiki writes: “Base stacking interactions in DNA and RNA are due to dispersion attraction, short-range exchange repulsion, and electrostatic interactions which also contribute to stability.” In other words, AT and GC “stack” due to their properties. However, is it rational to imagine that these nucleobases “know” in what precise 600,000 sequence to get into? Is it rational that one GC “knows” that it is number 397,657 and that it has to find 397,656 and 397,658 and get between it? If nucleobase “understands” where it has to go, where would this understanding be located in the five hydrogens, the five carbons and the five nitrogens that it is composed of?

There is one more argument that I want to put forward: Randomness can choose the correct answer among a finite set some of the time. Randomness cannot choose the right answer from an infinite list. The number properties that objects have in the Universe is infinite, any object can be assigned any property, provided there is one powerful and knowledgeable enough to do it. Randomness cannot assign properties to objects because it does not know from what list of properties to select. If two objects with certain properties will link 1 in a 100 times, then randomness can link them, but randomness cannot assign the property “linkage” to an object. Randomness has no goal, no objective, no desire, no plan, no preference, so there is no reason to suspect that randomness would ever invent a property.

Can you summarize this? tl;dr but i would like to understand your concept.
Also, I saw “we have no definition for the word impossible”
We have 6;
“1.not possible; unable to be, exist, happen, etc.
2.unable to be done, performed, effected, etc.: an impossible assignment.
3.incapable of being true, as a rumor.
4.not to be done, endured, etc., with any degree of reason or propriety: an impossible situation.
5.utterly impracticable: an impossible plan.
6.hopelessly unsuitable, difficult, or objectionable.”

Not in the sense that its improbable but no matter how many coins you flip, there is a 0 in whatever you want chance of an apple being an orange

Is this one of those long mathematical machinations that can be used to argue for the Anthropic Principle or Intelligent Design? Ick.

That assumes that life can only occur in the form we presently know.


Or, there could be selective pressures that weed out unfit elements and we are left with the “correct” answer out of the set.

What do you mean by “correct” here, btw? There is a lot of teleological thinking in this post that oughtn’t be there – and I say that as an unashamed advocate of VE in general . . .

We live on a planet where life exists.
It happened – so how do you prove that it was not a certainty?
Unless you were around at the time then you’re just guessing or making stuff up.

I think one logical error in the derivation is insisting that the specific 600,000-long sequence would have to be randomly created.

I don’t think anybody knows (a) what’s the shortest sequence that would be self-reproducing, and (b) how many different such sequences would be equally self-reproducing.

For all I know, that are a huge number of combinations of shorter sequences (perhaps of RNA rather than DNA) that could be (not very efficiently) self-reproducing in the right environment (e.g. an ocean full of organic compounds aka “food”, and without any competition).

Without answering these questions, the analysis is meaningless.

That argument only starts working once you have the first reproducing creature.

It doesn’t help understand how the first one came about, does it?

I suppose that depends on how you view “life” and “reproduction”. Are self-replicating strands of RNA “alive” and/or “reproducing”?

For the purpose of my argument, as soon as the strands start reproducing, evolution kicks in, and it is all fun and games. Getting the first replicator going, however, cannot rely on evolution. It is pure chance.

How do you mean “chance”?

Abiogenesis has not been demonstrated or explained as a likely, if not certain, event. The gap beween the largest known stable organic molecule (not produced by life already existing) and the smallest known replicator is huge. If this range is continuous with all or most of the intermediate molecules being stable, it would have been easy to demonstrate the emergence of a replicator in the laboratory by simulating the conditions for the formation of each of the intermediate molecules in succession. However, that is not the case. One way to explain it would be that we have no yet discovered the intermediate stable molecules and the path to to the first replicator. Another way would be that the conditions changed so rapidly that stability was not so important as possibility of the next complex molecule forming, which makes the emergence of the first replicator an extremely unlikely event that happened. That is probably what someone means when (s)he says life happened by “chance”.



"The universe is infinite in time and space. The number of planets, galaxies and any other structures is infinite. It has lasted forever, forever changing, will last forever. The big bang is either:

  1. True. Which means we happen to be in a bubble of maybe 10^1000 light years in space and 10^20 years from origin, which means it appears to be a big bang since this is how far we can ever possibly see both in time and space (“observable universe” and note that all of the official science has never denied that we are limited in our observation of the universe, has never denied that we can see only a small slice no matter what). If 10^1000 is too small, well just add a few trillion zeros to the exponent aka 10^1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000…

  2. False. Which means that the microwave radiation has another, different origin, which may very well be possible.

Since the universe is infinite in space and time, all possible combinations of Mass - Energy will have the time to come into existence, and in fact will cycle through an infinite number of times, “the eternal return”. This also fits in nicely with my theory of the universe as a combination, as a big number:


Since any possible combination will occur, this explains the occurrence of life on earth, since that one time quirk sequence of chemical reactions that brought life and man had to occur at least once (but infinite number of times, since the universe is infinite in time and space). So the origin of life is explained.

Also the universe is probably just a small dot in a universe containing an infinite number of other universes with different laws of physics.

All of our science, religion and philosophy is just desperately trying to size this universe to our limited brain, language and thought processes: we cannot accept infinity as an answer while in fact infinity is the only answer. That is why scientists cling on so strongly to the big bang theory."

Simper still, it just happened, end of story. There is no pattern, no cause, no nothing, the elements just collided that one unique time (or n unique times) and created the first molecule, then cell then evolution took over. No one will ever know, can know, can see the process happening.

We try to find some kind of pattern or repetitive sequence that can be used, imagined, so as to feel that we have control over reality: nothing further from the truth, whatever generated life from zero just shows we have no control over reality past a certain point. Even religion tries to fool us in thinking we have control by being good according to “god’s law” or whatever: but it is a false comfort.

I don’t understand your pessimism. The study of the beginning of life is equivalent to geology, archaeology, cosmology and history - the study of the past. There normally IS a pattern (if you believe in law of nature), as well as a cause. No one may ever know the specific route that enabled life on Earth. I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to suggest quantifiably-plausible potential scenarios, run computer simulations, etc.

The thing about inquiring into the very beginnings of life in the universe, is that you always will find that it happened. Maybe it won’t in the next universe, but then, no-one will know. It’s obviously possible, but very likely to be massively improbable. But then what is probability but certainty in a near-infinite array…?

Interesting you say computer simulation: they have been simulating life form generating programs for many years now, trying all kinds of software and ideas, neural networks, artificial intelligence ideas, etc. And yet, no real result has ever been achieved: nothing that starts to become intelligent, or that evolves interesting properties past a few superficial behaviors.

This goes to show how far we are from understanding and manipulating complex items such as life, evolution, etc. My take on it is that it is past our capability no matter what. Or that there is nothing to understand as that there are no ultimate causes or patterns or laws of nature, past a few basic patterns that are mostly probabilistic (quantum mechanics, etc.). I may be wrong, but just the fact that the 3 body problem cannot be solved exactly, let alone the simple protein folding problem (with the folding@home program executing trillions of calculations a second) gives me the feeling that we should just call it a day, and say reality is past us and over us, and maybe isn’t anywhere or anything at all, it is non comprehensible because there are no causes and laws aside from what we like to imagine.

Granted, science will keep on researching, but maybe the Instant Singularity is the only breakthrough left, wild chemicals in brains and modified neural circuits…

check out:


and try it out on yourself…

There is a critical difference. Many problems (including such simple ones as the 3-body problem) cannot be solved analytically. However, it is very easy to simulate 3 bodies. Protein folding may require thousands of trillions, or perhaps trillions of trillions of calculations. This is a practical problem that, given the exponential growth in computing power, will hopefully not allude us forever…

I agree that it hasn’t been demonstrated as a certainty; however whether it is a “likely” event is a rather normative consideration, wouldn’t you agree?

What does size have to do with it? Some self-replicating RNAs are only a few hundred base-pairs long. Additionally, what do we mean by “stable”? Stability is a function of environment as well as the specific structure of the molecule in question. One major cause of instability in the present environment is molecular oxygen. Since molecular oxygen is effectively a product of life (it is so reactive that unless it is constantly replenished in the environment it disappears all-but completely) when we are discussing the origin of life we are talking about an anoxic environment. That is important because anoxic environments favor reactions like the polymerization of nucleotide bases.

We’ve identified several environments in the early Earth where many molecules of biological relevance would have naturally formed and polymerized. We’ve also taken those materials and made self-replicating molecules from them. I don’t see how that doesn’t satisfy the conditions you’ve set here.

Since I disagree with the first part of this paragraph, the last sentence is still unclear.


You said you were flipping them once per millisecond since the beginning of the universe. The odds you calculated were based on doing it first try, though. You didn’t even take into consideration how much time you were given. You need to take a statistics class.

I had these mistakes glaring at me since I first peeked into this thread. Idk what took me so long to finally call him out. I guess I was just waiting for someone else to do it :S.

Origin of Life or Universe problem

A caused B shown as A → B.

then what caused ( A → B ) ? I am not saying what caused A because you get another kind of infinite regression as in An caused An-1 … A2 caused A1 caused A, etc. No I am asking what caused the general fact that A causes B or what made A cause B to exist…

C did.

then C → ( A → B ).

then what caused ( C → ( A → B ) ) ?

D did.

and so on forever.

So what is the final answer ? There is no answer, it goes on forever. But even if you get one last answer, X caused it all, does that really give you anything ? Isn’t X just another symbol - concept - idea ? Do you really think one concept - idea - answer X is “supernatural” is all “encompassing” ? I doubt it, but good luck…

A second problem regarding these kinds of problems is the very idea of cause: does A → B mean every time A appears then B appears ? Does it appear right immediately after A or after some time interval ? How many intermediate states are there between A and B ? Are there an infinite number of intermediate states ?

And what if it is probabilistic like in Quantum Mechanics ? B sometimes follows A, other times no ? or sometimes a wildcat comes after A ?

And then exactly what delimits A and B ?

maybe A extends up to B ? Maybe B is part of A ? maybe there is no cause and effect, but just B comes after A, as is a sequence of arbitrary items, symbols, delimitations (in space and/or time ? ). Etc. Etc.

Then if B just comes after A, isn’t that like house B is further down the road from house A ? Doesn’t necessarily mean A causes B, or maybe is it B causes A ?

So this gives me the idea that cause and effect and science in general breaks down past a certain point: if every time you get A, B sometimes appear, you got some kind of pattern, maybe not absolute, but some pattern. But you can never rely on it always. And when talking about the origin of Life or the Universe, delimiting, defining or even only imagining and conceiving items A and B doesn’t seem so easy. Good luck with that.