Two strains? Italy has the BAD strain. Three weeks from Three Patients to Collapsing Hospitals. By Joanne Nova. Figures from South Korea and the Diamond Princess may not be a good guide to what’s happening in Italy and Iran. There something seriously different going on there. Death rates are much higher than expected. Three weeks […]
How Bad Science and Emotional Appeals Spread Disinformation.
In today’s world, there is more false and misleading “information” than there is good science that is based on facts and not emotions and mythical or wishful beliefs. Much of what you see is either false or overblown. How can you know what to believe? It’s easy for me to say “Do your own research,” but that is often asking too much of most people who do not have analytical minds which have a habit of using critical thinking, much less have training in interpretation of scientific testing and results. Today’s sensational and social media agenda are often driven by emotions, ideologies, politics, commercial aims or just plain stinking thinking. The image above can help you understand factors that are important to discern fact from fiction, speculation and mythology.
Anecdotal stories do not constitute facts. Correlation does not mean causation. The flawed reasoning goes something like this: John ate a lot of apples. John got heart disease or cancer. Therefore, apples (or some chemical on them) caused John to develop heart disease or cancer. More examples of people who ate apples and got heart disease or cancer do not constitute proof that they cause disease. Correlation does not mean causation. Maybe it is just two unrelated facts that are paired for sensational effect or to intentionally mislead you.
In humans, there are a lot of lifestyle and workplace differences between people, so one factor (apple) cannot be said to be a cause of anything without taking into consideration what else could contribute or cause the effect. Other factors such as obesity, alcohol, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, sleep habits, age, heredity, other risky behavior, etc. have to be ruled out in closely controlled studies. Small numbers of examples that seem to support the premise do not constitute “clinical trials” or proof. To be statistically significant, very large numbers must be included along with control groups that do not use the suspected substance, preferably in a double blind study. (double blind means neither the subject or the person giving the substance know which are real and which are placebo so their attitude cannot affect the result.) I’m sorry, but Reader’s Digest and Facebook “statistics” are often flawed and any conclusions must be questioned and examined closely, even if it seems to come from a reliable source or even your grandmother.
It is wise to consider the source. There are powerful advocacy groups pushing agendas having nothing to do with real science or caring for your safety, which they claim. These include anti-vaxx, organic anti-modern agriculture, anti-pesticide, anti-fossil fuel, in general anti-human progress groups that influence national and international agencies to act out of a preponderance of caution. The precautionary principle, used in the European Union, stops all progress in its tracks. If a substance with no presently known safety issues may possibly, conceivably cause some unforeseen harm in the future it cannot be used. It is also unscientific because it demands proving a negative.
Word to the wise: Be cautious and suspicious of any health claim you read or hear about. There is often an agenda driven ideology or money-making scheme behind it.
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. —H. L. Menchen
While particle physicists aren’t trying to destroy our standard of living (as are “climate scientists”), this New York Times op-ed inadvertently points out the commonality between particle physics and “climate science”. Here you go: Read the NYTimes op-ed.
Is changing Brazil’s abortion laws the real purpose for the claims of a Zika and microcephaly link?
See previous post The Truth About Zika Virus and Microcephaly for summary of the analysis showing failure to establish a cause and effect link between Zika & Microcephaly, and a broadening of the definition of Microcephaly. WHO, other agencies and activists have ignored the original Latin American Collaborative Study of Congenital Malformations (ECLAMC) analysis invalidating the original research. See English translation at http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/7.33594!/file/NS-724-2015_ECLAMC-ZIKA%20VIRUS_V-FINAL_012516.pdf
Brazil, a Catholic nation, has allowed abortion only to save the life of the mother or rape, but recently allowed it for anencephaly (missing brain birth defect). Was this a first step that prompted or preceded the bogus study and the alarming press releases? The UN has gotten involved and is urging changing the abortion laws across Latin and South America. Most of these countries are Catholic, so it could be considered an attack on the Church’s strict abortion stand.
See articles from the Guardian below about the campaign to change Brazil’s abortion laws and my notes in blue.
Zika emergency pushes women to challenge Brazil’s abortion law Sarah Boseley, The Guardian, Tuesday 19 July 2016
Women’s groups are set to challenge the law in the hope of making termination possible for women at risk of delivering a baby born with Zika-related defects. Women’s rights and gender equality supported by Women’s groups in Brazil are set to challenge the abortion laws this summer in the hope of making a safe and legal termination possible for women at risk of delivering a baby born with defects after exposure to the Zika virus.
“Women should be able to decide and have the means to terminate pregnancies because they are facing serious risks of having babies with microcephaly and also suffering huge mental distress during their pregnancies. They should not be forced to carry on their pregnancies under the circumstances,” said Beatriz Galli, a lawyer on bioethics and human rights who works for Ipas, a group dedicated to ending unsafe abortion. (IPAS is an international abortion advocacy NGO.)
Lawyers for the organisations will present a legal challenge at the supreme court in the first week of August, when the court sits again after the winter break. They are coordinated by Anis Instituto de Bioética, which campaigns for women’s equality and reproductive rights. (founder of Anis worked with the group cited below)
The groups have obtained an opinion from lawyers at Yale University in the US, who argue that the Brazilian government’s policies on Zika and microcephaly have breached women’s human rights. The government “has failed to enact adequate measures to ensure that all women have access to comprehensive reproductive health information and options, as required by Brazil’s public health and human rights commitments”, says a review from the Global Health Justice Partnership, which is a joint initiative of the Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health. (“Health Justice” gives away the leftist, extreme position on “sexuality, gender and reproductive issues” of this group)
It is also critical of Brazil’s handling of the epidemic. Its “failure to ensure adequate infrastructure, public health resources and mosquito control programmes in certain areas has greatly exacerbated the Zika and Zika-related microcephaly epidemics, particularly among poor women of racial minorities”, the review says.
As of 7 July, there have been1,638 cases of reported microcephaly – an abnormally small head – and other brain defects in Brazil, according to the World Health Organisation. (almost all of these cases were in a small area in the northeast, but the Zika virus epidemic was country wide – a smoking gun against cause and effect) Women who do not want to continue their pregnancy because they have been infected, even if they have had a scan confirming brain defects in the baby, are unable to choose a legal termination. There is evidence of a rise in early abortions using pills obtainable online and fears that unsafe, illegal abortions will be rising too.
Galli said there were already about 200,000 hospitalisations of women who have undergone a clandestine termination every year, and a suspected 1 million illegal abortions before the epidemic. “We know that there are clinics operating in the very low-income poor settings in Rio and women are paying a lot of money and are risking their lives,” she said. (This appears to be an estimate based on a small number of hospitals extrapolated to the entire country and scaled up by some arbitrary factor. From various sources the estimates vary widely.)
Campaigners who want to change the law are encouraged by a ruling the supreme court handed down in the case of babies with anencephaly in 2012. This is a condition where the foetus develops without a brain, making it impossible for the baby to be born alive. The case took eight years, but eventually the court voted eight to two in favour of making abortion legal in those circumstances. (Is this the precedent prompting the Zika-microcephaly scam?)
Before the ruling, there were two exceptions to the ban on termination in Brazil – when the pregnant woman’s life was at risk and when she had been raped. Anencephaly became the third, but campaigners acknowledge that it is not a simple precedent.
Debora Diniz, co-founder of Anis and professor of law at the University of Brasilia, said she was confident the court would understand that the situation is an emergency. They were not asking for the legalisation of abortion, she said, but “to have the right to abortion in the case of Zika infection during the epidemic”.
“It is not an abortion in the case of foetal malformation. It is the right to abortion in case of being infected by the Zika virus, suffering mental stress because you have this horrible situation and so few answers on how to plan and have a safe pregnancy,” she said. (emphasis added)
Campaigners have five demands: good information for women in pregnancy, improvements in access to family planning, giving women mosquito repellents, better social policies to help children born with birth defects because of Zika and financial support for parents.
Diniz points out that the worst hit are the poor. “The feeling in my well-to-do neighbourhood [in Brasilia] is that everything is fine,” she said. People have never met a woman with Zika or seen a baby with neurological defects. But when she goes to clinics in hard-hit areas such as Campina Grande in the north-east, everything revolves around Zika. (Zika is a mild disease with low fever and rash, and is often not even recognized. Zika has been seen in other countries for 40+ years with no birth defects. Note the admission of limited area “affected.”)
“We have two countries in one country,” she said. “This is an emergency of unknown women. The trouble is they were unknown before the epidemic. I’m not being an opportunist. We have an epidemic and the epidemic shows the face of Brazilian inequality.”
UN tells Latin American countries hit by Zika to allow women access to abortion
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, The Guardian, Friday 5 February 2016 (Note that the article above is 6 months after this one, but is still touting the same line)
Strict curbs on contraception and abortion are common in hard-hit nations but UN says women should have choice about degree of risk they’re willing to take
Women protest anti-abortion laws in El Salvador, which has one of the highest rates of Zika infection – and where even miscarriages can be treated as murder.
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights has called on Latin American countries hit by the Zika epidemic to allow women access to abortion and birth control, reigniting debate about reproductive rights in the predominantly Catholic region.
The rapidly spreading virus is suspected to have caused an uptick in foetal brain defects. Although this is not yet scientifically proven, many campaigners say women should have a choice about the degree of risk they are willing to take. (emphasis added. Note that this author at least admits the lack of scientific proof.)
This is currently very limited in Latin America due to strict controls on birth control and abortion, which range widely from country to country. On one extreme is El Salvador – which has one of the highest rates of Zika infection in the continent – where even miscarriages can be treated as murder. On the other is Uruguay, where pregnancies can be terminated in any circumstances up to 12 weeks.
The UN commissioner is asking governments in Zika-affected areas to repeal policies that break with international standards on access to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion.
“We are asking those governments to go back and change those laws,” said spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly on Friday. “Because how can they ask those women to become pregnant but also not offer them first information that is available, but the possibility to stop their pregnancies if they wish?”
The commissioner’s initiative was welcomed by the US-based NGO the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“Women cannot solely bear the burden of curbing the Zika virus,” said Charles Abbott, the group’s legal adviser for Latin America & the Caribbean. “We agree with the OHCHR that these governments must fulfil their international human rights obligations and cannot shirk that responsibility or pass it off to women. This includes adopting laws and policies to respect and protect women’s reproductive rights.”
Health authorities in at least five affected countries have advised women to avoid getting pregnant, with Colombia telling called on women to delay pregnancy for six to eight months, and El Salvador, suggesting women avoid getting pregnant for at least two years. (emphasis added)
Reproductive rights advocates say the recommendations to avoid pregnancy are irresponsible and do not take into account that most pregnancies in the region are unplanned.
This is not the only area of contention sparked by the rapid spread of the virus. Scientists in Brazil are also in disagreement about the significance of new studies – revealed on Friday – that show Zika is present in saliva, which some say should prompt warnings against kissing. (emphasis added)
The Fiocruz research institute in Rio de Janeiro said on Friday it had identified live samples of Zika in saliva and urine, which merited further research into whether these two fluids could be a source of contagion.
Until the outcome is known, Paulo Gadelha, president of the institute, suggested pregnant women should think twice about kissing anyone other than their partners or sharing drinking glasses or cutlery with people who might be infected.
Although he said this was “not a generalized public health measure”, the proposed precaution has been met with a mixture of fear and derision. Other scientists argue that it is extremely unlikely for the disease to spread in this way.
“The warning is crazy and unnecessary,” said Rubio Soares Campos, who co-identified the first case of Zika in Brazil. “Just because the virus is present in saliva does not mean it can be transmitted that way.”
He argued that it was more likely to behave like dengue, another mosquito-borne disease that is found in human bodily fluids but cannot be spread that way.
But the latest news has increased the unease of the Brazilian public, who have watched with alarm as Zika has come from nowhere to infect an estimated 1.5 million people with an apparently growing range of suspected – but not yet scientifically proven – side-effects, including immune system disorders and brain defects in newborns. (emphasis added)
“It’s starting to scare the hell out of me,” said one Rio resident, Maria Teixeira. “At first everybody thought is was just a mild fever. Then, we were told it could develop into Guillain-Barré syndrome, and then that it was associated with horrible side-effects such as deformed babies. What’s next?”
Is there a cause and effect link or merely a correlation of unrelated events? Here is the story and the facts so far. In October 2015 an increase in microcephaly was reported in Brazil. A Brazilian doctor, Adriana Melo, at IPESQ, a research institute in Campina Grande, was the first to report a firm link between Zika and microcephaly. Several months before, there had been an outbreak of Zika virus throughout Brazil. The increase in microcephaly cases occurred only in a coastal state in the northeast of the country.
90% of the 1709 cases of microcephaly and birth defects were concentrated in this limited area. Of this number 1153 were diagnosed as microcephaly. There was no increase in other parts of the country, including an adjoining coastal state with a similar population, which only had 3 cases. This suggests there may be other contributing factors. Socio-economic factors may contribute since most of the mothers of the microcephalic babies were young, single, black and poor, living in small cities near larger cities. Additionally, this same northeastern region has always had the highest incidence of microcephaly in Brazil.
A study by the Latin American Collaborative Study of Congenital Malformations (ECLAMC) called for more controlled studies, and concluded that the data so far is inconclusive of a cause and effect link between Zika infection in the first trimester of pregnancy and microcephaly and similar nervous system defects. For an English translation of the original Portugese summary of the ECLAMC studies, see http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/7.33594!/file/NS-724-2015_ECLAMC-ZIKA%20VIRUS_V-FINAL_012516.pdf
This report discusses weaknesses in the methods used by IPESQ, recommendations for further studies and several other factors that may have caused or contributed to the birth defects as listed below.
- Rumor may have caused over reporting due to active searches and over diagnosis. Brazil health authorities estimate that as many as 2/3 of cases are normally not reported to authorities. If the estimate is correct, this would partially account for an increase, but not the degree reported, so other factors must be involved. However, Brazil reports a rate of 0.5 per 10,000 births compared to EUROCAT of 2.85 per 10,000 births, indicating a gross under reporting.
- Broadened criteria for microcephaly diagnosis from 3 standard deviations to 2 standard deviations below normal average age and sex adjusted head circumference, and no confirming follow up brain scans or autopsies in most cases.
- Zika infection in the first trimester of pregnancy cannot be confirmed at the time of birth because the virus is short-lived in the body and will not be present in the mother. Unless the mother was diagnosed early in her pregnancy, occurrence and connection cannot be confirmed.
- In the original studies other known causes were not ruled out such as STORCH (syphilis, toxoplasmosis, “other,” rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex), prematurity, diabetes of the mother and fetal alcohol syndrome, a major cause of microcephaly in Brazil.
- Also not ruled out are possible co-infections with dengue or chikungunya, both present in the population in recent outbreaks. The dengue virus is similar to the Zika virus and difficult to differentiate in tests.
- A low rate of yellow fever vaccination also seems to correlate to this incident. Yellow fever virus is similar to Zika virus and vaccination may offer some immunity to it.
- At IPESQ Bovine diarrheal virus (BVDV) was found in brain tissue of 3 fetuses in a later study. This virus does not usually infect humans but is known to cause birth defects in cattle. If true, this may be significant, but Dr. Adriana Melo suspects it may be a contaminant in the sampling or testing procedures.
- Contaminated water was not considered, although it is common for small cities without proper sanitation and water purification to have biologically contaminated water.
- Nutrition was not considered in this study other than a mention of general socio-economic influences, although the CDC, NIH and other agencies recognize folic acid (a B vitamin) deficiency as one of the leading causes of neural tube defects (NTD), including microcephaly, anencephaly, and spina bifida. In a recent NIH study they found that other micronutrients may decrease the risk of NTD occurrence, including thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), betaine (a B vitamin), vitamin A, retinol (A1), vitamin C, vitamin E and iron.
In conclusion, the “link” between Zika virus and microcephaly is far from proven because the original studies lacked scientific discipline and controls. More studies are needed to clarify what role the virus may play in these birth defects. However, it is probably best to take a precautionary approach until more is known.
Is it time to bring back DDT to eradicate the mosquitos that carry Zika and other diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and other diseases? Over 80% of infectious diseases are caused by insects. Assumed adverse environmental and health effects of this important insecticide have failed to materialize in many repeated controlled studies over the last 40 years. See “DDT: A Case Study in Scientific Fraud,” by J. Gordon Edwards, PhD entomology, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Volume 9 Number 3 Fall 2004, at http://www.jpands.org/vol9no3/edwards.pdf
“Eclamc Final Document – V.3, Summary and conclusions of Documents 1-5,” December 30th, 2015 http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/7.33594!/file/NS-724-2015_ECLAMC-ZIKA%20VIRUS_V-FINAL_012516.pdf
“Neural Tube Defects and Maternal Intake of Micronutrients Related to One-Carbon Metabolism or Antioxidant Activity,” US National Institute of Health, Angela L. Chandler1, Charlotte A. Hobbs1, Bridget S. Mosley1, Robert J. Berry2, Mark A.Canfield3, Yan Ping Qi2, Anna Maria Siega-Riz4, Gary M. Shaw5, and National Birth Defects Prevention Study, in Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol. 2012 November ; 94(11): 864–874. doi:10.1002/bdra.23068.
- Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Little Rock, AR 72202
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia
- Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, Texas Department of State Health Services, Austin, Texas
- Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition, University of North Carolina School of Public Health, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, California
“Brazil’s birth-defects puzzle, Zika virus might not be only factor in reported microcephaly surge.” By Declan Butler, 28 July 2016, Nature, Vol. 535, Page 475-6.
“Zika epidemic uncovers Brazil’s hidden birth defect problem,” by Alex Cuadros, March 1, 2016, Washington Post
“Disease Transmission by Arthropods,” E. J. L. Soulsby and William R. Harvey, Science 176, no. 4039 (1972): 1153–1155.
“DDT: A Case Study in Scientific Fraud,” by J. Gordon Edwards, PhD entomology, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Volume 9 Number 3 Fall 2004, at http://www.jpands.org/vol9no3/edwards.pdf
Philosophically there are only three reasons for existence or action: necessity, chance and design.
Everything in the physical realm has a beginning, an end and a cause. Nothing physical is permanent. Everything changes as a result of causes and are thus contingent on preceding events. If everything has a cause, then an endless series of causes into the past is the result. Of necessity, there must have been a beginning of the series of causes and effects. But what started the series? If everything in the physical universe has a cause, then something outside of the physical universe, by necessity, must have started the series of causes. Why is there something instead of nothing? Why does anything exist? It must have been caused by something. God or The Creator, by whatever name you wish to use, is the necessary first cause, the uncaused cause and everything else is contingent on it. Therefore God is a necessary being that is eternal, having no cause, no beginning, and no end.
Since something outside the physical universe necessarily started the series of cause and effect, it also voids the assumption of the materialists that the physical universe is all there is; that the non-physical or spiritual only exists in our imagination. Of necessity, there must be a spiritual realm because, of necessity, something outside the physical must have started the series of causes. This is a very old, but very valid argument for the necessary existence of God. Atheists and materialists will dismiss it as “old news” but it is as valid today as it was when St. Thomas Aquinas included it in his Summa Theologica as one of the proofs of God.
If God started the whole thing, including existence, was it a singular act of creation which was then left to develop by itself without guidance? It can be argued that the present form of the universe is a matter of chance and only LOOKS designed. It can also be argued that life came about by chance through some undefined “Life Principle” and only LOOKS designed. Neither of these chance occurrences holds up to scientific or statistical scrutiny. The physical universe is so finely tuned that if any of the fundamental forces or particles were changed by an infinitesimal amount, then stable galaxies, stars, planets and life would not have formed.
Life is a particularly complex and fine-tuned process and we are only just beginning to explore the workings of living creatures. For example, the probability of assembling one specific protein chain of 200 readily available amino acid units, from the 20 left-handed amino acids used in living systems is 1 in 20200. To be plausible, the number of attempts must be in the ballpark of the odds. If the universe is 13.7 billion years old, there have been 4.32 x 1017 seconds since it began. We would need to make 231.4 x 10180 attempts each second since the beginning of the universe to make the random assembly of even this one specific protein plausible.
If we assume that life molecules were assembled on Earth, which is thought to be only 4.5 billion years old, and evidence of life was present 3.8 billion years ago, then the number of attempts per second rises to even more impossible levels. And that is just for one protein enzyme assembled from readily available units, excluding interfering molecules, and under the ideal conditions for assembly and preservation. Already we are seeing the extreme odds against a specific enzyme being produced. If we look at what it would take to produce by chance the thousands of different specific enzymes necessary for metabolism, the probability of random assembly of the correct mix would be (20200)3000 for a simple bacterium with 3,000 enzymes, or 1 in 10780,000; that’s a 1 with 780,000 zeros after it. The terms impossible and miracle come to mind.
If chance is so improbable, then design or intent is a more plausible explanation for life and, indeed, the universe. The argument for intelligent design is that of impossibly high odds against the specified complexity we find. A design necessarily implies a designer. Not just any enzyme would perform the metabolic functions of even the simplest living being. It must be a specific mix of specific enzymes with specific functions. That does not even address the formation of a living being, which is many orders of magnitude more complex than the formation of simple enzymes or structural proteins or DNA.
- God necessarily exists.
- The spiritual realm really exists.
- God has remained involved in the universe.
What is life?
We can describe the characteristics and infinitely varied forms of living things, but what exactly is life itself? In the past, it was assumed that there was a vital force present in all living things that passed down from life to life. This philosophy was called vitalism. Because it borders on the Devine, today vitalism has been replaced by the philosophy of mechanism, which states that all natural phenomena, particularly life, can ultimately be explained through physics and chemistry. The universe is thought to be merely mechanical in nature. Under this philosophy, life is just a process produced by physical laws acting on matter.
Life is assumed to be a given, like gravity, which incidentally has not been explained or understood well either. We know gravity exists and how it behaves, but really don’t understand why. There is not a single location in any creature or cell that we can point to and say, this is its life. Definitions of Life usually describe what living things consist of and what they do. They do not actually tell us what Life itself is. We can’t collect, isolate or test it, so it appears to be a transcendent quality. What exactly distinguishes a living cell from a dead one or a mixture of cellular components? Depending on the source, explanations vary from biochemical to functional.
Life only comes from life. Spontaneous generation of living things has been shown over and over to be false. Spoiled food does not beget flies or mold. Each only comes from other flies or mold spores. Life as a process requires just the right kind and amount of regulated energy and a fine balance of the right molecules and structures. Science has not been able to create life or even most biological molecules without the help of molecules first derived from living systems or those systems themselves, e.g. bacteria engineered to produce insulin. Even if all of the components of a living organism are blended in the lab in the correct proportions no life results.
What is it that assembles and winds up the machine or provides the vital spark? Science does not know. Proponents of molecular Evolution believe that non-living molecules at least once in earth’s history spontaneously became a living system from which all subsequent life descended. They argue (and with some merit) that spontaneous generation cannot occur today because living organisms would consume any components before they would have time to accumulate and self-organize into a living system. They assume that only in the absence of life could components accumulate sufficiently to form life spontaneously from non-living components.
Never mind that the key molecules, e.g. proteins and nucleic acids, are unstable in water for the length of time that would be necessary to accumulate and assemble the correct mixture into a living system. These molecules are assembled by linking smaller molecules together with the loss of a water molecule for each link. When excess water is introduced, e.g. ocean or pond, the reactions tend to be reversed and the links fall apart. That is why proteins inside cells are constantly being assembled to replace those that have been degraded. Molecular Evolution proponents believe that production of life in the laboratory can be accomplished at some future time, although they have no evidence to support that belief. We will look at some of the more popular origin of life theories and the validity of the arguments later.
Life is a continuous process that is constantly working against forces that would end it. It has been said that Life (1) is improbable, (2) defies entropy (the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics), (3) is unstable (4) needs a constant supply of raw materials and energy to survive. Let’s look at each of these claims.
- Life is Improbable
Life really is improbable, partly because of the extremely low probabilities of such complex systems forming by random chance even once. It is the ultimate “Infinite Improbability Drive”. Even the simplest known bacterium contains thousands of types of proteins and other unique biological molecules and structures. Metabolic processes necessary for life depend on thousands of different, specific enzymes for facilitation and regulation through feedback, etc. Enzymes are proteins made of chains of amino acids that are folded into useful shapes. If we suppose that an average enzyme is 200 amino acids long, using the 20 left-handed amino acids living beings use, the probability of only one specific enzyme sequence forming at random is 1 in 20200 or 1 in 10260. That’s a 1 with 260 zeros after it.
If the universe is 13.7 billion years old, there have been 4.32 x 1017 seconds since it began. We would need to make 231.4 x 10180 attempts each second since the beginning of the universe to make the random assembly of even this one specific protein plausible – that is, to make the number of attempts that are in the same ball park as the odds against it. This all pre-supposes that all of the amino acids have been pre-assembled and are readily available. Amino acids occur in left and right-handed forms, and only left-handed forms are used by living things. If we take this into account, the odds would be much higher. But remember, to form even one cell all this must happen in a very confined space so that all of the proteins and other molecules can be collected in one place, not just anywhere in the universe or even anywhere on the earth.
If we assume that life molecules were assembled on earth, which is thought to be only 4.5 billion years old, and evidence of life was present 3.8 billion years ago, then the number of attempts per second rises to even more impossible levels by a factor of about 3.4 (13.7/4 billion). And that is just for one protein enzyme assembled from readily available units, excluding interfering molecules, and under the ideal conditions for assembly and preservation. Already we are seeing the extreme odds against a specific enzyme being produced. If we look at what it would take to produce by chance the thousands of different specific enzymes necessary for metabolism, the probability of random assembly of the correct mix would be (20200)3000 for a simple bacterium with 3000 enzymes, or 1 in 10780,000; that’s a 1 with 780,000 zeros after it. The terms “impossible” and “miracle” come to mind.
Now let us look at DNA. There are four different molecules that form base pairs like the rungs on a ladder along the coiled “double helix” of DNA that encodes for proteins, etc. Bacterial DNA, whose chain forms a circle and is tightly wound around proteins, is 300,000 to 4 million base pairs in length. If we assume that a simple bacterium has DNA that is 500,000 nucleotides long, using 4 types of “bases” (two purines and two pyrimidines), the probability of forming the correct sequence is 1 in 4500,000 or 1 in 10301,030 – that’s a 1 with 301,030 zeros after it. Even this presumes that each nucleotide has already been pre-formed from one of the four readily available bases, its partner and a pair of specific phosphorylated sugar (deoxyribose) molecules that form the sides of the “ladder.”
It’s even worse than that, however, since each purine must pair with its specific pyrimidine to form each base pair so double the number is needed. Now add the probabilities of assembling, in one place, the DNA and its associated proteins (histones), the thousands of enzymes and other structures like cell membranes, and it is obvious that the probability of forming even the simplest bacterium is so infinitesimally small that it can only be called either impossible or a miracle. Even if we assume that an earlier form contained a tenth or a hundredth of this number of components, it would still be called impossible or a miracle. For 1% of the components, it would be 1 in (10260)30 or 1 in 107800 (1 with 7800 zeros) for enzymes and 1 in 103010 (1 with 3010 zeros) for DNA (or RNA), plus assembly of all the other components as noted above. Over a ten thousand-fold reduction (0.001%), would be required to make it meaningful, which would leave precious few components to “live.”
One of the origin of life theories proposes that RNA, not DNA was the original control and inheritance molecule. The difference in the structures of DNA and RNA is that DNA uses the deoxy- form of ribose sugar and RNA uses ribose itself. Since DNA now transcribes instructions for protein assembly to RNA first, this theory skips this extra complexity as a more believable scenario. Presently, some viruses use RNA instead of DNA, but viruses are incapable of most life processes on their own and must take over the DNA of host cells to reproduce, etc. They can be thought of as parasitic “seeds”, not complete organisms.
Fred Hoyle, a famous astronomer and atheist, stated that the odds of forming a living being at random from lifeless molecules would be like the chance that “a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.” Note that Fred Hoyle and N. C. Wickramasinghe estimated the odds at 1 in 1040,000 by assuming that numerous structures of enzymes could perform the same functions. That’s still pretty steep odds. Others have calculated the odds with various assumptions and outcomes, but all result in extremely small odds. Many are enthusiastic about the possibility of life or life’s building blocks arriving from outer space after being assembled by high energy processes in space. Looking at the extreme odds, pre-assembly elsewhere is like weighing a flea on the back of an elephant. It is not a real answer. Some even have speculated that a more advanced, intelligent life form seeded earth with life, but that only pushes the causes further back in time. How did life come to these advanced civilizations?
All of the extreme improbabilities above don’t even address whether life would spontaneously arise under the right conditions, if all components are available, or whether we would just have the same non-living jumble of molecules we could assemble in a laboratory. In other words, we still haven’t addressed what assembles and winds up the mechanism to start life processes. Clearly, some other unknown process or overarching principle besides random chance has been at work in both assembling the components and in turning them into something alive.
- Life Defies Entropy (the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics)
Entropy is a measure of the disorder of a closed system and the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy always increases – that chaos always increases and usable energy always decreases. Life seems to defy entropy because life is very, very organized and uses matter to generate energy and build more and more complex structures. However, living things are never closed systems; they need material and/or energy from outside to survive, so an organism that seems to decrease entropy within itself may increase entropy of its surroundings continually. Is it enough to result in a net increase in entropy of the earth or the universe? The answer is unknown but possible. Note that this assumes that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is absolutely true in all cases, but this has not been proven either. It is a well-accepted and thoroughly tested theory and thus is a scientific law by that definition.
A planet with abundant life is far more complex and organized than a dead planet simply because the chemistry of life is far more complex and dynamic than inorganic crystalline structures. It is difficult to see how the net decrease in entropy caused by life on an isolated planet can affect any other planet, much less the universe as a whole. If the planet is considered the “closed system” then there is indeed a net decrease in entropy and a net increase in complexity, order and usable energy, e.g. fossil fuels. Of course, that also depends on your definition of order and disorder. If we define disorder as an increase in the number of states, and order as uniformity of form and function, than the dead planet is not as disordered as a planet with abundant life in all its forms and complexity of functions. However, if disorder is the rule, then the ultimate outcome of continued disordering and loss of energy is a uniform, cold, dead universe in the lowest energy and organizational state possible.
- Life is Unstable
Life is indeed unstable because it exists on the edge of destruction, far from equilibrium. Ordinarily, chemical reactions reach a state of lowest energy called equilibrium where they are stable. At that point the reaction stops or is stabilized dynamically where the net amount of products no longer increases and the net amount of starting materials no longer decreases. Life is never at or near equilibrium and requires input of material and energy to maintain itself in this unstable state. It can only exist under very specific physical circumstances including temperature, pH, pressure and presence or absence of oxygen. An aerobic organism requires oxygen, whereas oxygen is deadly to an anaerobic organism. The only time an organism is stable or at equilibrium is when it is dead. This brings us to (4.).
- Life needs a constant supply of raw materials and energy to survive
Life requires a constant or nearly constant supply of materials and energy from outside itself to survive. Ultimately, most of life on earth depends on the products of photosynthesis as a source of energy that is initially derived from the sun. The only exceptions are those living systems present in deep seas and deep interiors that derive energy from bacterial processing of inorganic chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide. In both cases, energy and material from outside the organism are necessary to maintain life.
Since no one knows what life actually is, the best we can do is define what living things must have and must do to live. All living things are more alike than different. An advertising flyer I received a few years ago from a supplier of products for biochemistry stated “Did you know that humans share about 50% of their DNA with bananas?” All living things use essentially the same basic biochemical processes such as metabolism in the everyday business of living, so the DNA that encodes for the chemicals used for life processes are necessarily very similar. The differences are relatively minor compared to the similarities. The processes used to accomplish all of life’s functions at the molecular or cellular level have to be very similar for all living beings. Because the processes are so complex and similar, the surprising thing is not that the workhorse protein molecules (and thus the DNA that encodes for them) of different living things are so similar, but that they are as different as they are and still function in essentially the same way.
Living things at the minimum consume and process food, excrete waste, grow and reproduce. Some evolutionists would add “and, through natural selection, adapt in succeeding generations”. Some living things also move, sense and communicate. Some can even go dormant for long periods and only “come to life” when conditions are right. This is true of many bacteria. Bacteria that had lain dormant for 120,000 years have been found under Greenland’s glaciers. Once, I left a closed jar of saturated salt solution, which I had used to treat a sore throat, sitting for a month or so. When I started to throw it out, there was a fuzzy white ball of bacteria floating in the middle of it. This extremophile bacteria that could grow in this high salinity environment was probably from the salt and may have been dormant for thousands of years before awakening. Re-vitalization of dormant organisms is a great mystery. How can life itself be suspended and then be restarted spontaneously? Is it really suspended or is it just slowed to an imperceptible level? But how could it survive for thousands of years?
So, we are only left with questions about what life is and how it came to be. Obviously the odds against life forming spontaneously put it into the realm of miracles, unless there is some as yet undefined and undiscovered process or principle. In a later post, we will examine some of the theories put forth to try to explain life’s origin.
 Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglass Adams, 1979. A satire in which instantaneous intergalactic travel is possible due to an infinite improbability drive.
 Note that the hypothetical numbers given here of amino acids, proteins and DNA nucleosides in a simple bacterium are simplified to make calculations easier.
 Purines Adenine (A) and Guanine (G) must pair with Pyrimidines Cytosine (C) and Thymine (T), only as A-T and G-C to form each nucleotide pair that forms each “rung” of DNA. RNA substitutes Uricil for Thymine.
 Life, from Wikipedia
 Tiny Frozen Microbe May Hold Clues To Extraterrestrial Life, Science Daily (June 15, 2009) — “A novel bacterium — trapped more than three kilometres under glacial ice in Greenland for over 120,000 years… Dr Jennifer Loveland-Curtze and a team of scientists from Pennsylvania State University report finding the novel microbe, which they have called Herminiimonas glaciei, in the current issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The team showed great patience in coaxing the dormant microbe back to life; first incubating their samples at 2˚C for seven months and then at 5˚C for a further four and a half months, after which colonies of very small purple-brown bacteria were seen. … and it has been shown that ultramicrobacteria are dominant in many soil and marine environments.”
 Extremophile – bacteria that thrive in extreme conditions that would kill other organisms. They have been found in boiling hot water, under extreme pressure, at high altitudes, in sulfuric acid rich waters, in oil wells, etc. Almost no place on earth is devoid of life. It is ubiquitous.
 Table salt is produced in two ways, mines or evaporation of salt water, so it is uncertain if this was an ancient organism. Ponds used to evaporate sea water are often tinged purple or red by halobacteria and must be purified before sale for food products, so salt with dormant microbes was probably mined from deep underground.