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Huff and Bluff

Can ‘quantum magic’ save chemical evolution?

by Carl Wieland and Jonathan Sarfati

19 June 2006

Well-known physicist Paul Davies1 says in a recent Nature article2 that ‘the origin of life remains one of the great outstanding mysteries of science’. What he means, of course, is the naturalistic origin of life—i.e. how chemicals could have become living cells without supernatural design.

“How did stupid atoms spontaneously write their own software … ? Nobody knows … ”
Addressing what he calls the ‘burning question of astrobiology ’,3 he lists only two possible alternatives: ‘Was the origin of known life a freak accident, or the expected outcome of intrinsically bio-friendly laws of physics?’ Creation is excluded from the start.4

The ‘freak accident’ hypothesis is unattractive, given the astonishing odds of just one of the many long-chain molecules of life assembling itself in the right sequence by chance.5 Sir Fred Hoyle famously said that it would be like having the solar system packed shoulder-to-shoulder with blind men shuffling Rubik’s Cubes, and having them all hit upon the solution by chance—at the very same time.6 And that molecule would be useless by itself, anyway.

Obtaining the machinery for life is much more than just having the right building blocks. Living things are choc-a-bloc with programs—i.e., information. The sequence in which the sub-units of a long-chain molecule (e.g. DNA, or a protein) are assembled is what gives them their properties. I.e., they carry programmed information (including the information for their own reading machinery). And that order, like the software in a computer, is not an ‘expected outcome from intrinsically bio-friendly laws’ of physics or chemistry. Programs originate either in an intelligent mind, or in other programs (which themselves originate in mind).7

Davies is well aware of this. On the same subject, he previously wrote: ‘How did stupid atoms spontaneously write their own software … ? Nobody knows …’.8

Miller–Urey experiment
Miller–Urey experiment (click on image to see higher resolution version)
 
What about the famous Miller–Urey experiments? Electrical discharges in a mixture of gases resulted in some very simple ‘building blocks of life’. Davies rightly dismisses these as a ‘blind alley’. He would know they cannot account for life’s information, any more than a lightning bolt baking a piece of clay soil can be seen as the first stage in the spontaneous self-assembly of a brick house. That would take information. As he wrote, ‘there is no known law of physics able to create information from nothing’.8

So given that Davies rejects the God of the Bible and hence miraculous creation, what does he cling to as a possible future solution? The vague idea (without specifics) that ‘quantum mechanics’ will somehow ‘solve the riddle of life’. But no matter how sophisticated the language, this is nothing but the purest bluff and bluster.

One of us (JS) has a Ph.D. heavily involving quantum mechanics (QM) [update, 2011: see his paper Should creationists accept quantum mechanics?—ed.]. In reality, everything known about QM actually reinforces Davies’ pessimism about finding a non-creation explanation for life—QM explains the chemical reactions which we already know move away from life, relentlessly degrading it.9 His speculative ‘quantum leap’ is really a massive ‘quantum bluff’.

References

  1. UK-born Dr Davies is at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Sydney’s Macquarie University. Return to text.
  2. Davies, P., A quantum recipe for life, Nature 437(7060):819, 6 October 2005. Return to text.
  3. The study of the origin, distribution, and destiny of life in the universe. It incorporates the discipline of exobiology—the study of life outside of the earth—which has as yet no subject material to study. Return to text.
  4. See Wieland, C., Science: The rules of the game, Creation 11(1):47–50, 1988. Return to text.
  5. Natural selection is of no help, obviously, until one already has a replicating entity. Return to text.
  6. Hoyle, F., The big bang in astronomy, New Scientist 92(1280):527, 1981. Return to text.
  7. That is how the programs are passed on in living things—an organism’s machinery is programmed to similarly program its descendants. Return to text.
  8. Davies, P., Life force, New Scientist 163(2204):27–30, 18 September 1999; see also Williams, A., Quantum leap of faith, Creation 22(2):42–43, 2000. Return to text.
  9. E.g. QM explains the energy levels of molecular orbitals, and how the overall energy is lower in the monomers, the single units, rather than polymers (long-chain molecules) plus water. Hence the polymers will tend to degrade to simpler units, not the other way around. Return to text.

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