April 25, 2013

Advanced Life is Very Rare

Given Occam’s Razor, I believe it can be shown logically that highly-intelligent life most likely is rare in the universe. The reasons have nothing to do with how many planets can sustain life. All we need to do is look at Earth and the history of life on this planet to see that life is rare in this universe—or, in fact, any conceivable universe(s). I shall only summarize the arguments, since the full reasoning is incredibly tedious. I will be starting with the faulty assumption that life evolved apart from God’s design, since if God designed life we can have no idea how common advanced life is elsewhere. (From now on in this post, I shall be using “advanced life” to refer only to beings with human-like intelligence.)

The basis for the argument is two simple facts: (1) human life evolved on Earth almost as soon as is conceivable, and the evolutionary path was replete with fortuitous circumstances and advancements, as many evolutionists will candidly admit[1]; and (2) Darwinian evolution by definition is not optimal and life evolves without purpose or desire for increases in complexity.

Because advanced life (humans) evolved so rapidly on Earth, relative to the full spectrum of conceivable time frames, Occam’s Razor suggests that advanced life had to evolve quickly or it would never have evolved at all. (One possible reason would be that the conditions for life may rarely last more than about 5 billion years before all life is destroyed by some extinction event.) We see, then, that the simplest answer is that almost wherever advanced life exists it will have evolved quickly. Lower forms of life may be abundant in the universe, but the vast majority of these planets would undergo complete extinction before advanced life could evolve.

Now, even if you allow for an infinite number of universes, Occam’s Razor would also strongly suggest that advanced life is not common in any of these alternate universes—or else the odds tell us that we should have been living in such a universe.

Under the faulty assumption of us being a cosmic accident, this means that one way or another it looks like we won the cosmic lottery where the odds were majorly stacked against us. Either (1) against the odds, we randomly ended up in a universe where advanced life is very rare, even though there are other universes where advanced life is common; or, (2) somehow the fundamental properties of the universe/multiverse allowed for the unlikely existence of advanced life forms—but just barely. Likely, if the fundamental properties of reality were altered even slightly then advanced life could not exist in any universe.

Bottom line: taking God out of the picture invariably makes the odds of our existence to be highly unlikely. It leads to the conclusion that life is probably rare in the universe(s). Finally, it leads to the conclusion that there probably is a God who designed life on Earth.


  1. Great blog. Good posts.

    I was wondering what your opinion was on this rebuttal of the origin of the first cells on the Talk Origins archive:


    It made me think of an entry you had when you said that a primordial soup hypothesis would be overly optimistic now with what we know about cells.

  2. Although I'm not sure which statement of mine you're referring to, I can imagine I said something similar to that about the “primordial soup” idea being too optimistic. It is too optimistic. If there were a thousand steps leading to the formation of modern cells (think the simpler prokaryotes), we have only discovered perhaps five of those steps, I think. To date, the ideas of how life got started on earth are highly varied and it's anyone's guess which idea is correct, if any of them. The increasing knowledge of the complexity of even the simplest modern cells only compounds the difficulty of finding a naturalistic pathway from inorganic molecules to cells. In other words, the thousand steps I mentioned might really be more like ten thousand.

    That said, I wouldn't want to discourage scientists from searching for such a pathway. If I am correct, then eventually scientists will exhaust all the possibilities, and the truth that it would have taken a miracle will become more and more apparent. I look forward to that happening.

    As to the TalkOrigins rebuttal, they have some good points—specifically, that naturalistic answers could potentially be found, and it is too early to jump to the conclusion that life had to have been miraculously created on earth. I never have attempted, as best I know, to prove that a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life is logically impossible—infeasible, yes, but not impossible given enough chances on enough worlds in enough universes. The mathematical odds appear to be highly against it, but scientists hope to discover things that will greatly increase those odds. The only point I can make is that they are assuming, optimistically, that such discoveries will happen; whereas, I am assuming (in faith) that that will not happen enough to make the formation of cellular life appear inevitable by mere chance.

  3. More specifically, on point (1) on TalkOrigins, I would say that indeed biochemistry is not chance, and indeed it can produce more complex products sometimes. However, there is vast complexity difference between an amino acid and a cell. We know that biochemistry can produce some kinds of amino acids, but we do not know that biochemistry can produce cells. Just because amino acids can form naturally does not prove that cells can form naturally, any more than the fact that a snowflake can form naturally proves that a complex ice sculpture with writing on it can form naturally. Cells require incredibly complex instructions to operate, amino acids do not. Cells reproduce, amino acids do not.

    On point (2), I would agree with their logic. Theoretically, something much simpler could have led to something more complex, and that into something more complex, and so on until you got modern cells. However, the problem is the lack of evidence. It seems odd to me that so many simpler forms of life would have become extinct. We still have “simple” sponges that have existed for ~500 million years, for instance. We have viruses that are not even necessarily alive that still exist. Simple things do not always invariably go extinct just because they are not the “fittest” organisms. Where are all the primitive precursor cells? But, the other problem is that as of yet, we can not show how amino acids would join together to form even simple replicating units. To date, we have only been able to create an RNA strand (tC19Z) that can replicate shorter RNA strands. Even if such a complex RNA strand (198 letters long) could form in pre-biotic conditions—which is extremely unlikely—it would certainly break apart before it could evolve into something more complex. (Of course, the idea is that eventually we will find a simpler RNA strand that could replicate itself. To that, I say, 'Good luck!')

    On point (3), I agree that making an argument from incredulity is invalid. Just because it seems impossible for biochemistry alone to result in cells does not mean it's impossible. However, inventing several hypotheses suggesting how life possibly could have formed is not very impressive or convincing, either. The evidence is far from being conclusive. The existence of hopeful hypotheses (which formed in the fertile imaginations of man) does not make for an argument in favour of a naturalistic origin of life. So, neither side has a solid argument.

    In the end, it is the Bible that really dictates the truth for me, which I must receive by faith more than any overwhelming evidence. Proof is not to be found, nor should we seek it in this matter. However, like I said earlier, I think the mounting frustration of scientists over the next 20-50 years will be fun to watch. They've been at this game for close to 100 years. I predict they'll make a few steps forward but even more backward in the long run.

  4. The primordial soup statement was in the second paragraph of this article:


    Thanks for your response.