Not According to Hoyle


   

No, not poker, and not Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769), the famed authority on card games and chess. Darwinism is the game and Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-present), the distinguished astronomer, is the odds maker. He says, no. Just plain no. It couldn't just happen without intelligence. His reasoning slams like a steel door against any kind of accidental evolution, and several have recently been proposed in one form or another to plug the holes in neo-Darwinism—especially the gaps in the fossil record.

Now that evolutionists admit openly that the fossil record never did support the neo-Darwinian orthodoxy after all, they need a substitute. Stephen Jay Gould has proposed reviving the despised view of Goldschmidt who believed in "hopeful monsters," the idea that something like a dog, say, might just hatch from, say, a chicken's egg once in a great while. Another idea, a less popular one, is Jean Piaget's recommendation to reinstate the long rejected Lamarckism—the view that learned or acquired traits might be passed on from one generation to the next. And still another is Hoyle's own proposal, a remarkable mutation of neo-Darwinism.

In his well-illustrated and impressive new book, The Intelligent Universe (London: Michael Joseph, 1983, 256 pp.), Hoyle says:

…as biochemists discover more and more about the awesome complexity of life, it is apparent that its chances of originating by accident are so minute that they can be completely ruled out. Life cannot have arisen by chance (pp. 11-12).

Does this mean that Hoyle has become a creationist? Well, not exactly, and he doesn't expect to either. To forestall any speculation about his apparent "conversion," he says bluntly: "I am not a Christian, nor am I likely to become one as far as I can tell (p. 251)." Still, Hoyle argues that there must have been some "intelligence" behind the emergence of life on Earth. Setting aside the question of what sort of intelligence, he offers an interesting line of argument.

The probability that the simplest life-form could just accidentally arrange itself from particles floating in an ideally prepared primordial soup is very slim. To appreciate just how slim, Hoyle proposes an analogy. He asks how long it would take a blindfolded person to solve a Rubik Cube. Suppose he worked very fast; say, a move a second without resting. According to Hoyle's figuring it would take approximately 67.5 times the estimated age of the universe (allowing the generous figure of 20 billion years since the big bang), for him to reach a solution—about 1.35 trillion years. Judging from the life expectancy of human beings we could say that a solution of the Rubik Cube could not be achieved at all by a blindfolded person. Yet this is just about the same difficulty as the accidental formation of just one of the chains of amino acids necessary to living cells. In the human cell, Hoyle points out, there are about 200,000 such proteins. The chance of getting all 200,000 by accident is really small. In fact, even if an ideal primordial soup existed, and if it were repeatedly jolted by electrical charges (as in the famous Miller-Urey experiment, the time required for the formation of any one of the requisite 200,000 proteins would be roughly equivalent to 293.5 times the estimated age of the Earth (set at the standard 4.6 billion years).

Yet the odds against the accidental formation of a living organism are considerably worse than the odds against a blindfolded solution of the Rubik Cube—the latter being estimated by Hoyle to be about 50 billion trillion to 1. The trouble is that even a simple protozoan, or a bacterium, requires the prior formation of about 2,000 enzymes, themselves also complex proteins, which are critical to the successful formation of all the other 198,000 or so requisite proteins. The odds in favor of the accidental formation of all 2,000 by accident (never mind the other 198,000), without which no living organism could have come into existence, approaches a truly infinitesimal magnitude. The odds would be similar to those against 2,000 blindfolded persons working Rubik Cubes independently and just accidentally coming to perfect solutions simultaneously—according to Hoyle, roughly 1040000 to 1. Or, to give a more graspable notion of the improbability, Hoyle says, it would be roughly comparable to rolling double-sixes 50,000 times in a row with unloaded dice. Looking at it from the point of view of the expected time lapse before reaching a solution, the predicted heat death of our solar system would have occurred early on, and our Milky Way galaxy would have rolled itself up like a scroll long before a solution could be hoped for.

In the next phase of his argument, the British scholar gets down to bare knuckles. He says that anyone foolish enough to believe that the solution to the life-problem might just come about by accident is guilty of a "junkyard mentality." The basis for this phrase is another analogy of Hoyle's own creation. (Unfortunately, it seems to fit his own proposed solution too, but more about that below.) He asked somewhat earlier, and asks again in his 1983 book, what are the chances that a tornado might blow through a junkyard containing the parts of a 747 and just accidentally assemble it so as to leave it sitting there all set for take-off. "So small as to be negligible," he says, "even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe" (p. 19).

But many evolutionists may not easily be persuaded by the argument against the junkyard mentality. They may be inclined to believe that the analogy of a 747 is quite uninteresting since there are conceivably multiplied billions of possible aircraft designs, not to mention designs for other vehicles yet to be imagined. That is to say, some evolutionists might well be inclined to suppose that there are many billions of possible solutions to the life-problem and that the one which occurred on Earth was as inevitable as the shape of a totally unique snowflake. But Hoyle has anticipated their rebuttal and rejects it. He contends that in the universe as we know it there are uncountable "anthropic" coincidences—intelligent accidents. For instance, he cites the approximate balance of oxygen and carbon atoms. Both are critical to living organisms, and must be present in approximately equal quantities. Otherwise, "a great excess of carbon would prevent the formation of many materials on which life is dependent, rock and soil for example, while a great oxygen excess would simply burn up any carbon-bearing biochemicals that happened to be around" (p. 218).

Or, for another lucky coincidence, take the delicate balance inside the hydrogen atom. Hoyle says:

If the combined masses of the proton and electron were suddenly to become a little more rather than a little less than the mass of the neutron, the effect would be devastating. The hydrogen atom would become unstable. Throughout the Universe all the hydrogen atoms would immediately break down to form neutrons and neutrinos. Robbed of its nuclear fuel, the Sun would fade and collapse. Across the whole of space, stars like the Sun would contract in their billions, releasing a deadly flood of X-rays as they burned out. By that time life on Earth, needless to say, would already have been extinguished (pp. 219-220).

These peculiar coincidences, the balance of oxygen and carbon and of particles in the hydrogen atom (not to mention countless others), Hoyle refers to as "anthropic"—almost human, as if Someone were speaking to us. He points out that there is no reason to suppose that such coincidences are inevitable since there is no end of other imaginable arrangements which would be fatal not only to life but to the very structure of the universe as we know it.

Hoyle concludes that it takes a certain credulity to believe that such coincidences are just so many inevitable accidents. According to him, life together with the whole universe dangles precariously from an infinitesimal thread of improbability held by some sort of intelligence, while beneath yawns a chasm of nearly infinite and fatal probabilities.

It is interesting that Hoyle is willing to go along with neo-Darwinism in its rejection of the miracle of creation, yet he complains that the model requires miracles of its own:

… as for instance the miracle of the formation of galaxies after the big bang and the miracle of the origin of life in a feeble brew of organic soup, which the credulous believe to have happened in the early history of the Earth (p. 237).

So what does Hoyle propose to put in the place of the less and less plausible neo-Darwinian orthodoxy? Briefly, skipping over many interesting details of his argument, he suggests that cosmic dust actually consists of the remains of countless bacteria which now populate, and have populated for a long time, the whole universe. He figures that life first originated elsewhere and was transported to Earth, perhaps in the dust of some wide-ranging comet. But the "life-seeds" (his term) brought to Earth, by whatever means, were not accidents in the neo-Darwinian sense, they were sent by some prior, or perhaps subsequent intelligence which is guiding, pushing and/or pulling, us into the future. The reason for this ambivalence is that in Hoyle's system time runs both forward and backward. He can't think of any mathematical reason why time couldn't run both ways, so, he assumes it does.

Somehow the life-seeds got safely to Earth, having been sent out in all directions by a previous and/or subsequent intelligence. He says, somewhat enigmatically, "we are the intelligence that preceded us" (p. 239). Afterward, neo-Darwinian evolution took over, but with a peculiar twist. Hoyle believes that the billions and billions of mutations necessary to the impossibly rapid ascent of protozoans to man were brought about by viral infections which modified the DNA of parent organisms. These viruses, he claims, were guided by some "cosmic intelligence," which eventually thus gave rise to the great variety of organisms that we see on Earth today. Further, in some yet-to-be imagined way, intelligent beings, perhaps much smarter than we are, but not as smart as the infinite Judeo-Christian God (whom Hoyle discards) planned the whole scenario.

Having demolished any hope for neo-Darwinism, Hoyle alludes to his own theory unflatteringly:

Although the thought may seem rather fanciful, the surface of Mars looks very much like a failed attempt at seeding life from space, a failed "experiment" of a kind which eventually succeeded in the case of the Earth (P. 105).

He says that "genes ... arrived on the Earth from the outside" (p. 109), but he acknowledges that this idea merely postpones consideration of the life-problem:

An explanation of the amazing complexity of life must still eventually be given, even in a cosmic theory (p. 109).

Really. And, by the way, if Hoyle's substitute for the discredited neo-Darwinian orthodoxy seems plausible, I've got an incredible bargain for you on a used diesel import. Otherwise, in view of the fact that evolution cannot occur, what is so unscientific about the creation miracle?

Cite this article: John W. Oller, Jr., Ph.D. 1984. Not According to Hoyle. Acts & Facts. 13 (12).